Former Football Player Active Again After Knee Replacement

A recent study showed that retired NFL players are at a greater risk of undergoing a total knee replacement than an average person. It concluded that 11% of former pro players will undergo this knee surgery, compared to 1% of the general population.

This information was nowhere on West Chicago, IL resident Mark Nigro’s radar when he started playing football as a young kid. Nor did he think about long-term problems when he developed Osgood Schlatter’s, a painful knee condition that often affects children in an active stage of growth. He wore leg casts for a time, eventually improved and went on to join the Willowbrook High School football team as a linebacker/tight end.

“At 6’ 3’, I loved the physical nature of the game, the teamwork and the life lessons I learned from my coaches,” Nigro explained.

He grew up hearing stories of his uncle, Mike Rabold, an inspirational man and former Chicago Bear, and he wanted to be like him.

He set his sights on playing at Notre Dame where he earned a football scholarship and got to know legendary coaches Gerry Faust and Lou Holtz. Unfortunately, in his junior year, he sustained a shoulder injury which took him out of play for the balance of his collegiate career. “I was honored to have an opportunity to get an education at Notre Dame and to play for two of the greatest men ever,” Nigro said.

After college, his knee pain gradually returned and he underwent a variety of treatment, including three meniscal tear scopes and various injections.

In addition to building a career, he joined the coaching staff at Willowbrook High School and for nine years his pain grew worse as he stood for up to five hours at a stretch during practices and games. “Coaching will always be one of the highlights of my life but eventually it was too hard to stand that long,” he said. “I would go home from practice and ice my knees.”

At age 48, he was diagnosed with arthritis in both knees which meant that he had lost the smooth, articular cartilage between the bones of the knee. It was difficult to walk any distance, riding a bike hurt and he gave up coaching and helping a friend with building projects on weekends.

“It was deflating,” he explained. “I felt years older than I was.”

So, like many elite football players today, Nigro researched total knee replacement as an option to alleviate the pain for good. He took a friend’s advice to consult Dr. Scott Sporer, a joint replacement specialist at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush. After an evaluation, Sporer recommended Nigro undergo two knee replacements, one at a time.

At age 48, Nigro underwent his first knee replacement and then his second on the other side one year later. Both were very successful and Nigro felt the benefits right away. “

I basically got my freedom back,” Nigro said. “Now, my wife and I take our bikes to the Chicago lakefront and enjoy spin classes in the winter. We have three grandchildren and I can play with them pain-free.”

Today, at age 53, he says he wouldn’t change anything about his football career. However, he cautions young players to listen to their bodies and to seek medical attention for anything that causes pain.


To discuss your knee or hip pain with Dr. Scott Sporer, call 877-MD-BONES or request here. He sees patients in the Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush Oak Brook, Naperville, IL and Munster, IN locations.

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