Will Jason Pierre-Paul Be Ready for Giants' Season Opener?

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterJune 4, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul #90 of the New York Giants rushes against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

ESPN's Adam Schefter broke the news on Tuesday morning that Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants would be having back surgery:

Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul is undergoing back surgery this morning in LA with Dr. Watkins. Belief is he should be ready for September.

— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) June 4, 2013

There's a lot of information in those 140 characters, so let's take a look at the questions raised by this surgery.


Will JPP be ready for the opener?

In all likelihood, yes. With a normal recovery time of 12-16 weeks, this type of surgery gives Pierre-Paul a good chance of being ready to play by September. Any sort of setback will make a Week 1 return unlikely, and because the Giants have the depth to overcome this, they may be more conservative with the return timetable.

The biggest question will be conditioning. Pierre-Paul will not be able to do much for the first month after surgery, though he starts at a very high base level. NFL athletes tend not to have too much trouble with this, so if you see Pierre-Paul running at normal levels sometime in August, this concern can be put aside.


What was this surgery?

While the Giants have not been specific about the type of surgery, all the evidence points to this being a microdiscectomy. In that surgery, done with small incisions, a portion of the inflamed disc is removed, creating a "tunnel" for the nerve to come through. This immediately reduces the pressure and often alleviates the pain while maintaining the integrity of the disc. 

The best known NFL case similar to this is Peyton Manning, who had two microdiscectomies on his injured neck before finally requiring a single level fusion. In both of Manning's cases, he did not miss time, but ultimately, the surgeries did not hold up long enough for him to avoid the more major surgery that led to him losing a year. 


Is this the same kind of surgery that Rob Gronkowski will have?

This is exactly the same surgery that Gronkowski is expected to have. It's also the same surgeon performing the operation. The difference may only be what level the disc problems that Gronkowski and Pierre-Paul are having problems at, though in both cases, that level is not known. 


Why is "Dr. Watkins" important enough for Schefter to note?

As noted above, Dr. Robert Watkins has performed surgery on a number of NFL players, including Manning and Gronkowski among others. Watkins is considered the top spinal surgeon in the country.

One note: While none of the articles I've seen note this, the surgery was done by Dr. Robert Watkins Sr. His son, Dr. Robert Watkins Jr., often assists with his father's surgeries and is considered a world-class spinal surgeon on his own merits. 


What made this surgery necessary?

Pierre-Paul apparently had inflammation in one of his spinal discs. The disc, located in between the vertebrae, can be damaged and inflamed by a number of things, especially in football players who deal with physical forces well beyond the normal limits. When the disc inflames or herniates, it puts pressure on the nerve that comes from the spinal cord out to innervate the body. That pain can be severe or numb the area. 

Pierre-Paul does have a history of back issues, though they seemed to be minor and manageable. Over time and with continued force, especially the kind of spinal extension that defensive rushers get when they're met by blockers, it's very likely that this has been problematic for a while. The Giants medical staff kept him functional, but at some point, the pain and other symptoms were bad enough that this became a necessary surgical fix.