Mark O’Mard ranked first in his first karate tournament after surgery. He soon went on to win the main event at MMA Fall Brawl VII.

MMA fighter kicks osteoarthritis

A novel hip replacement helped Mark O'Mard beat osteoarthritis and return to martial arts.

Mr. O’Mard’s appetite for martial arts dates back 25 years, to when his father enrolled him and his brother in taekwondo. He was quite good. With a black belt in the discipline, as well as in karate, Mr. O’Mard competed across the US and internationally.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) became his life. In 2011, Mr. O’Mard left his position as vice president at a well-known bank to open Omard Mixed Martial Arts (OMMA) in his hometown of Baldwin. He taught various disciplines at all skill levels at his dojo, and maintained a professional fighting career.

Winning his first MMA bout strengthened Mr. O’Mard’s passion. But while running to train for his next MMA fight, his right leg hurt consistently. He chalked it up to muscle strain and took some time off. When the pain persisted, he went to an orthopedic surgeon who diagnosed him with hip osteoarthritis.

Also known as “wear-and-tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is the gradual breakdown of joint cartilage. Symptoms include joint stiffness and pain. According to the Arthritis Foundation, aging, excess weight, previous joint injuries and overuse can contribute to the condition. For Mr. O’Mard, years of training had taken a toll.

Due to significant damage to Mr. O’Mard’s cartilage, a physician recommended that he stop training and consider total hip replacement surgery.

“I decided to deal with the pain,” he said, “but it affected my day-to-day functioning. I couldn’t lift my baby son or play with my older son like I wanted.”

For a second opinion, he consulted Sreevathsa Boraiah, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital, and member of Northwell Health’s Orthopaedic Institute.

“Something about Dr. Boraiah’s demeanor and personality made me feel like he was trustworthy,” Mr. O’Mard said. “I felt comfortable with him right away.”

An unconventional hip replacement

Dr. Boraiah determined that Mr. O’Mard was a good candidate for an approach that preserves muscle and connective tissue, called capsule-sparing anterior total hip replacement.

“Mr. O’Mard wanted to return to his sport,” Dr. Boraiah said. “I knew this technique would get him closest to his goal of returning to high-level competition.”

Conventional total hip replacement requires a 10- to 12-inch incision on the side of the hip, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The surgeon cuts through muscle and connective tissue, dislocates the hip and then replaces the damaged joint with a prosthetic. But Dr. Boraiah’s recommended approach for Mr. O’Mard entails a small incision in front of the hip, so it spares the muscle and the hip capsule, a band of ligaments that stabilizes the joint.

“Since there is less tissue damage, the new hip is as good as a normal, native hip once everything heals,” Dr. Boraiah said. The muscle- and capsule-sparing technique also provides greater stability, so dislocation is less of a risk compared to traditional hip replacement surgery. With no long-term restrictions, you can safely get back to everyday movement much sooner than the conventional version allows. That’s especially advantageous for athletes like Mr. O’Mard.

“The anterior approach lets you bike and use an elliptical machine within two weeks,” Dr. Boraiah said. “On the other hand, you have to wait six weeks to resume activities after a traditional total hip replacement. By then, scar tissue can form, which restricts mobility.”

Mr. O’Mard underwent the surgery by Dr. Boraiah at North Shore University Hospital in August 2016, and went home the next day. He returned to his dojo after two weeks of at-home physical therapy, then slowly started to introduce martial arts back into his routine.

Returning to MMA

“As the months went by, I started running — something I hadn’t been able to do for years,” Mr. O’Mard said. “It took time to regain enough flexibility in my hip to kick, but once I started kicking again, my kicks were strong. My friends joke that I have a bionic hip because I’ve gained even more power in my leg.”

Mr. O’Mard recently took first place in his first karate tournament after surgery. He has also returned to kickboxing and MMA competition, and this past autumn even won the main event at the Fall Brawl VII.

“I’ve regained my love of the sport,” Mr. O’Mard said. “I’m happy, active and can play with my boys. It feels great to compete and live life again.”

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