Surgeon Grips Wrestling Market

San Antonio Express-News – July 15, 2001
By Jeff Lehr

Word seems to be getting around in the wrestling world about a San Antonio surgeon’s out-of-the-ring remedies.

More than a year after Dr. Lloyd Youngblood removed bone spurs from the neck of World Wrestling Federation superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin, fellow wrestler Chris Benoit, aka the Canadian Crippler, underwent a similar operation by the doctor.

And with neck and spine injuries as common in wrestling as body slams and three counts, Benoit said Youngblood’s name is quickly becoming known among his colleagues.

“If you X-ray any wrestler, you’re going to find some type of problem with their neck,” Benoit said recently from his home in Atlanta, where he is recovering from the June 28 surgery.

“A lot of guys have it, and a lot of those guys are very aware of who Youngblood is,” he said.

Benoit, in his 16th year of professional wrestling, is expected to fully recover in about six to 12 months, at which time he hopes to return to full contact in the ring.

Austin, a Boerne native, recovered from the January 2000 surgery and this year won the WWF Heavyweight Championship title.

“It’s a very physical sport,” Benoit said. “It’s a lot more demanding than it looks. You really don’t know until you’re in it.”

About four weeks ago, Benoit, whose signature moves include the “Diving Headbutt” and “Crippler Crossface,” said he received a blow to his body during a pay-per-view event that intensified the pain in his neck and right arm.

Youngblood, chief of neurosurgery at Methodist Hospital, said the pain eventually became unbearable for the 34-year-old wrestler.

“He is exquisitely tuned to every muscle in his body,” Youngblood said of the 5-foot-11, 220-pound Benoit. “He noticed the triceps in his dominant arm was weak – the strength was gone.”

Benoit said he consulted several doctors before learning of Youngblood from WWF officials.

During the four-hour procedure, Youngblood made an incision in the front of Benoit’s neck and removed two cervical disks from his vertebrae. This allowed a team of surgeons to remove bone spurs – abnormal growths that develop from constant wear and tear – that were irritating nerves along the spinal cord.

Youngblood said that by that afternoon, the Canadian-born wrestler was walking. By the next day, he said, Benoit was climbing about 10 flights of stairs to limber up.

“He refused all of his pain medication,” Youngblood added. “He wanted to know exactly where he was feeling pain.”

Benoit said his only discomfort is from wearing a neck brace while the bone heals.

Youngblood is modest about his seemingly increasing following in the WWF, attributing his reputation simply to understanding his patients’ needs.

“I think people go where they’re comfortable going,” he said.

“You’ve got to have faith in your doctor when he’s operating near your brain or spinal cord.”


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