Doctor explains Harper’s injury, details resurface on timeline originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Bryce Harper’s broken left thumb, which he sustained against the Padres last week, threatens to seriously stop the Phillies playoffs.
Harper was in the midst of another MVP-level season with the Phils despite playing through an elbow injury, but is expected to miss somewhere in the neighborhood of six weeks according to a report Tuesday by Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia†
To get an idea of what to expect from the recovery timeline and to get a better idea of why Harper will be out of circulation for so long, we asked Dr. J. Milo Sewards, the chair of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in the School of Medicine at Temple University, to give us an expert opinion on the broken thumb and what Harper will do over the next six weeks.
Not only was Sewards all doom and gloom, but he confirmed that watching the injury looked “quite worrisome” — not exactly the description Phils fans were hoping for.
“If you have a thumb fracture, you’re worried about grip strength, you’re worried about the ability to hold a bat, and so this is definitely a matter of going into the end of the season,” explained Sewards. .
“The thumb itself is a very important finger. Other fingers have bones that can break and you can just stick them to another finger with a buddy, but with the thumb, if you have a fracture there, it definitely affects your grip strength.”
Sewards explained that while fractures in the hand or fingers can be treated without surgery, as was likely the first hope with Harper’s injury, that poses its own problem: uncertainty about when the bone has fully healed. X-rays, Sewards said, don’t always show complete healing, even if a patient no longer experiences pain and has largely regained function in the hand or finger.
“In an athlete, you may want to have surgery to make sure the fracture is stable and allow for an earlier return,” Sewards said.
As part of the surgery, Harper will have “very small implants” designed to avoid irritating the soft tissues surrounding the fracture, Sewards explained. He said the goal is to leave the implants in the finger permanently.
If all goes smoothly, Sewards thinks the reported six-week timeline makes sense for Harper’s return.
“Fractures around the hand tend to heal a little faster than on other parts of the body,” Sewards said, “and like I said, X-rays tend to lag a little bit.
“So even if you can see the fracture, which may not be the case after you repair it, you would expect that he would be able to move it sooner than if he were treated without surgery and started working on his grip strength and get back to waving a bat in about six weeks.”
Salisbury reported Tuesday it would be a “victory” for the team to have Harper back and healthy by September 1. Right now, the Phillies are 39-36, three games from the last NL Wild Card spot. Between Wednesday and the first day of September, the Phils will play 55 games, or 33.9% of the entire regular season. At that point, there are only 30 games left on the schedule.
It won’t be easy, but the Phils have to somehow make it work while their best player heals – and hopefully he’s gearing up for a frenzied sprint into the postseason when he returns.