The photos of Anderson Silva going one way and his lower left leg going the other way at UFC 168 in Las Vegas on Saturday evoked many emotions as it circulated across social media.
The most telling part, though, was the obvious excruciating pain Silva was in as he screamed from one side of the octagon. On the other side, middleweight champion Chris Weidman was equal parts celebratory and compassionate. The result of Silva's pain was a broken fibula and tibia. Dr. Steven Sanders, a UFC orthopedist, performed the surgery that night at a nearby hospital.
"We are not even 48 hours from the surgery, and tibia fractures, though we can get them to heal, can have slower healing," Sanders said. "So in general, my prognosis would be of fracture healing somewhere in the nature of three to six months, but there's also soft tissue components that have to heal, and then, of course a rehabilitative process as well."
Sanders said if he had to make a guess Silva would be able to attempt to train in six to nine months.
Silva injured his leg 76 seconds into the second round. He threw a leg kick at Weidman's lead front leg. Weidman checked the kick with his knee, just as trainer Ray Longo taught him to do in training camp. Silva collapsed to the ground immediately, his left leg broken in two places. Referee Herb Dean stopped the fight instantly.
"The minute it occurred I'm sitting there going, 'That's fixable,'" Sanders, who was at the fight, said.
During surgery, Silva had a titanium rod inserted into his left tibia, which is stabilized with a screw through the bone and the rod below the knee joint and another pair of screws just above the ankle joint to prevent rotation, Sanders said.
The fibula was broken at the same level, but Sanders said he decided not to do individual surgeries for multiple reasons, but mostly to avoid making an incission.
"I did not want to expose the environment of the fracture to the environment of the operating room," he said. "That could increase his risk of infection -- that's the most important -- and I didn't want any of those factors that are in the bone marrow of his tibia to be washed out if an incission is made."
Sanders said Silva has crutches and a walker available, and he's already seen the fighter up on crutches. The rehabilitation process will involve bearing weight, which Silva could do earlier than someone who has suffered a more severe injury, like a spiral fracure, Sanders said. Once he's reached full weight-bearing, Silva will have to test range of motion on his knee and ankle.
Sanders said Silva has continued to ask if and when he'll be able to train. The bright side for Silva, who is 38 years old, is that Sanders said age does not play a role in fracture healing.
-With Casey Musarra