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Can Vail’s Philippon salvage greatness of injury-plagued Tulowitzki?

August 15, 2014, 8:45 am
Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies photo).

Troy Tulowitzki (Colorado Rockies photo).

On Sunday, the Colorado Rockies will officially retire the number of the greatest player in franchise history – the No. 17 of first baseman Todd Helton. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nos. 2 and 5 of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez will ever be joining the Todd Father’s along the upper deck at Coors Field.

Tulo and Cargo have been far too plagued by injuries, and now comes news that they’re both once again done for yet another lost season – Tulo with a torn labrum in his hip and Gonzalez with knee problems necessitating surgery Monday.

According to the Mayo Clinic: “A hip labral tear involves the ring of cartilage, called the labrum that follows the outside rim of the socket of your hip joint. The labrum acts like a rubber seal or gasket to help hold the ball at the top of your thighbone securely within your hip socket.”

That’s not good if you’re en elite Major League shortstop pushing 30. Tulo was killing it with a .340 batting average, 21 homeruns and 52 RBIs – on pace to win a National League MVP Award – and now his ninth season has ended the way many previous seasons have ended: on the DL.

Marc Philippon

Marc Philippon (Dan Davis photo).

Tulo will undergo hip surgery in Vail today, placing his future in the very capable hands of Dr. Marc Philippon, who has extended the careers of many great athletes.

But one has to wonder if Tulo will ever truly be able to return to All-Star form and get the Rockies back to the playoffs the way they rolled in his rookie season and then again in 2009. It’s been very bleak since then, although not nearly as bleak things have been in Kansas City (go Royals!).

I grew up in Washington, D.C., a fan of Baltimore’s great offensive shortstop, Cal Ripken – baseball’s ultimate iron man. So to witness Tulo’s endless string of injuries is disheartening.

I’ve also been an outspoken critic of the Rockies’ front office, but I can’t really fault them for sticking with Tulo and Cargo all these years. In fact, I have to credit them for trying to lock up two great young superstars with long-term deals and resisting the temptation to trade them prematurely. It’s easy to say in hindsight that they should have been traded sooner.

I just hope in Tulo’s case that Philippon can work his magic and get him back to an elite level for the duration of his contract so that my opening hypothesis is proven wrong. To back up that hope, which is the desperate desire of any true Rockies fan, here’s a story I did on Philippon back in 2008. If anyone can turn Tulo around, it’s going to be …

The Hip Doctor of the Stars: Vail’s Marc Philippon

Dr. Marc J. Philippon of Vail’s Steadman- Philippon Clinic credits golfing great Greg Norman with giving his career as an orthopedic surgeon a huge boost by allowing the Great White Shark’s 2000 arthroscopic hip surgery to be broadcast live on the Internet.

Norman credits Philippon with extending his legendary links career using an innovative and minimally invasive procedure only recently coming into vogue in the United States.

“Marc essentially saved me from a total hip replacement,” said Norman, a two-time British Open winner who owned a ranch northwest of Vail and designed the Norman Course at Vail Resorts’ Red Sky Ranch Golf Club near Wolcott.

“(Marc) is a pioneer in terms of bringing science to the golf course, and the flexibility of the instruments he uses allows him to reach areas of the joint that were previously inaccessible. Before I came to him these methods weren’t used for golf-specific injuries, but now it’s a common procedure among professional golfers.”

Philippon says the repetitive nature of a golf swing makes pros and weekend duffers equally susceptible to hip-joint injury and chronic pain, but the motion and violence of many different sports opens other athletes up to debilitating hip problems.

Essentially any activity such as skiing or ice skating that involves flexion, abduction and rotation puts undue pressure on the hip joint. Throw in the full contact of hockey or football and athletes can see their careers go the way of the great Bo Jackson.

Philippon counts among his patients Mario Lemieux of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, Olympic gold medal figure skater Tara Lipinski, NBA basketball star Marcus Camby and Pro Bowl NFL running back Priest Holmes.

After her gold-medal win in the giant slalom at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, ski racer Julia Mancuso had her hip scoped by Philippon, who acknowledges that “skiing is a risk sport.” But he adds that diagnosing the problem early and using arthroscopy can keep young athletes active and avoid osteoarthritis and eventual hip replacement.

“The baby boomers were more active, generation X is very active, so we’re seeing more activities early on like kids now at age 12 playing hockey almost every day,” Philippon says. “If we catch it early enough, we can intervene surgically and non-surgically and hopefully prevent premature arthritis in their 30s and 40s and keep them active later in life.”

Such statements fit seamlessly into the broader Steadman- Philippon philosophy of preventing full joint replacements through exercise, diagnosis, arthroscopy and rehabilitation.

Which explains in part why Philippon in 2005 joined the Vail-based clinic founded by renowned knee specialist Dr. Richard Steadman, coming over from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Orthopedic Surgery.

Philippon was also impressed with the Vail clinic’s emphasis on validating pioneering procedures through its nonprofit, science-based research foundation

“I’ve always admired Dr. Steadman for his ability to be on the cutting edge like with the microfracture technique,” he says of procedure Steadman developed that uses microscopic incisions in the bone that allow stem cells to bubble up and form scar-cartilage to heal torn ligaments. “He pushed the research on that and now it’s proven to be right.”

Steadman, the U.S. Ski Team physician who prolonged the careers of athletes from Joe Montana to Dan Marino to Bruce Smith to Bode Miller, is an equally big fan of Philippon.

“He’s been a world leader in hip maintenance and avoiding hip replacement. That’s what he’s pioneered,” Steadman says. “He’s figured out the reasons that people need total replacements and so now he can come in and correct that before they need it. It’s just what we’re doing in the knee, so it’s an ideal fit.”


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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning energy, environmental, political, entertainment, outdoor and sports writer based in the Vail Valley. His work has appeared in publications such as The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, LA Weekly,, SKI Magazine, Powder and People Magazine. He also regularly contributes to The Colorado Statesman and Atlantic Media's

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