World class athletes often play through knee pain and arthritis to achieve their goals of winning and success. Unfortunately knee pain can be debilitating especially after their playing careers are over and affect quality of life and movement.
Below are 10 world class famous athletes with knee replacements, with a few actually returning to their sports in a competitive manner.
Broadway Joe Namath, the Hall of Fame New York Jets Quarterback, had both of his arthritic knees replaced in April of 1992 at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Namath was 49 years old when he had both knees surgically replaced during a single four hour long procedure.
The procedure was performed by Dr. Chitranjan Ranawat after 20+ years of knee pain and buckling. Namath noted that the fear of dropping one of his young daughters because of his bad knees ultimately led him to get his knees replaced.
Widely known for his commercial and TV endeavors, Namath famously guaranteed a Super Bowl victory prior to Super Bowl III against the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in 1969. The Jets did indeed win the Super Bowl with Namath named Super Bowl MVP.
Champion WWE wrestler and former olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle had both of his arthritic knees replaced on May 24, 2022. Angle has suffered from numerous orthopedic injuries from his wrestling career and surgeries including neck fractures and other spinal injuries.
Angle was known for winning his olympic gold medal in 1996 while wrestling with a broken neck during the entire olympics. Angle was given 12 shots of novocaine prior to matches to enable his pain to be controlled. Doing so ultimately led to future neck issues with required surgeries.
Angle also dealt with pain medication addiction issues in 2003 leading to required rehab and counseling. Angle noted taking up to 60 pain killers a day at times.
Four time Super Bowl winning quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers and 2 time Super Bowl MVP has had both knees replaced. In 2015 Bradshaw had his right knee replaced at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) in Little Rock, Arkansas by Dr. Lowry Barnes. In 2021 Bradshaw had his left knee replaced by the same Little Rock team.
Bradshaw was originally referred to the UAMS team by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews out of the Andrews Institute in Gulf Stream, Florida. Andrews is by all accounts the most widely acclaimed sports medicine orthopedic surgeon in the country.
Both surgeries were performed well after his playing career which ended in the early 1980s with the Steelers. Bradshaw has been a FOX NFL Pregame and Postgame studio host for decades along side Howie Long, Jimmie Johnson, Curt Menafee and Michael Strahan.
Super Bowl Champion and Hall Fame Quarterback for the Denver Broncos John Elway had his left knee replaced in November 2007. Elway later became General Manager of the Broncos after his playing days were complete.
Elway is famously known for playing with no ACL in his left knee for his entire career. Elway also had LCL ligament injuries which he was able to play on throughout his entire NFL career.
In addition to his knee replacement, Elway has also had history with other orthopedic issues specifically in both of his hands. He had a condition known as Dupuytren’s contracture, a progressive condition of the the skin in the palm of his hands.
NBA Hall of Fame Center Bill Walton had his left knee replaced in April 2013 at the Sharp Coronado Hospital in San Diego, California. His surgeons Peter Hanson and Joseph Jankiewicz used computer navigated technology to complete the procedure.
Walton noted that he has had 37 previous orthopedic procedures to his feet, ankles and spine. Included in these procedures are fusions to both feet, ankles and spine.
Known for his love of the band The Grateful Dead, Walton noted that the band’s music was played during his surgery even though he was under general anesthesia.
Olympic Gold medalist beach volleyball player and entertainment star Gabby Reece underwent total knee replacement in April 2016 after years of arthritic breakdown.
Reece took a unique approach to her post-surgical rehab, electing to strongly limit using addictive opioid pain medication in her post-op protocol of physical therapy. By doing so Reece hopes to improve the awareness of opioid addiction reality after orthopedic surgeries.
Reece was Nike’s first female spokesperson and also a New York Times Best Selling Author. Reece is married to husband and world class surfer Laird Hamilton who has also had joint replacement to his hip.
WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Mick Foley had his right knee replaced on September 11 2017, only 5 months after a hip replacement in April 2017. Foley noted that his right knee had been an issue for over 10 years, being unable to straighten the leg.
Foley was 52 years old at the time of his surgery and admits that years of not wearing knee pads during wrestling was not a smart decision on his part.
Foley is no stranger to orthopedic surgeries having had his toes amputated back in 2004. Unfortunately Foley became addicted to the strong opioid pain medications, at times taking up to 50 per day.
Foley continues to struggle with back and other injuries from his wrestling days however notes much improved methods of pain control.
Hall of Fame Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino noted that he had both of his knees replaced in 2020 after years of pain and arthritis. Marino was well known in his career for serious injuries including a career ending achilles tendon rupture.
Marino has spoken publicly regarding his limited mobility and activity levels leading him to finally get his knees replaced after his career ended. Details regarding his surgery location and date are not available.
Marino is widely known as the best quarterback to have never won a Super Bowl. For years Marino held numerous all time passing statistics records before being broken by more current QBs including Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Former Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods had his right knee replaced in February of 2012 after years of NFL success. Woods had his surgery performed at All Star Orthopaedics in Dallas, Texas by Dr. Thomas Schatt.
Woods’s surgery was performed as part of the Gridiron Greats program, created to provide free medical procedures including knee and hip replacements to financially struggling, retired National Football League (NFL) players.
Woods gained notoriety early in his career by doing his unique ‘Ickey Shuffle’ after every touchdown, copied and loved by NFL fans nationwide. GEICO Insurance used Ickey in one of their funny commercials doing his Ickey Shuffle after getting his number called at the deli counter grocery store line.
Hall of Fame horse racing jockey Gary Stevens had his right knee replaced in July 2014. The procedure was performed by Andrew Yun, MD, orthopedic surgeon at the Center for Knee Replacement at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Los Angeles, California.
Stevens was able to return to competitive horse racing only 3 months after his knee replacement and raced in the prestigious Breeders Cup in Santa Anita, California.
Stevens returned to win the 2015 TVG Pacific Classic Stakes and the 2016 Longines Breeders Cup Distaff after his successful surgery.
Stevens had his hip replaced in 2016 and had actually retired from racing in 2005 due to his knee pain only to return to racing later in his career after knee replacement.
Final Notes on 10 Famous Athletes With Knee Replacements
- Joe Namath – NFL Hall of Fame QB
- Kurt Angle – WWE Hall of Fame Wrestler and Olympic Gold Medalist
- Terry Bradshaw – NFL Hall of Fame QB
- John Elway – NFL Hall of Fame QB
- Bill Walton – NBA Hall of Fame Forward
- Gabrielle Reece – All Time Beach Volleyball Great and Olympic Gold Medalist
- Mick Foley – WWE Hall of Fame Wrestler
- Dan Marino – NFL Hall of Fame QB
- Ickey Woods – Famous NFL Running Back
- Gary Stevens – Hall of Fame Horse Racing Jockey
Golf fans, take a look at 4 pro golfers who had knee replacements and continued to compete at high levels.