Percy Harvin had a hard decision after meeting with one of the top hip surgeons. Would he wait and try to play through a small but significant tear inside his hip? Would he choose to have surgery now, stabilize the hip and hope that he could go on to have a solid career?
The choice is now made, and with it go the prospects of his Seattle Seahawks season to some extent. Percy Harvin will have surgery, according NFL.com. While this report and others suggest that he could maybe return later this season, the normal timeline and comparable cases don't give as much optimism.
The surgery will come quickly, on Thursday, and be performed by Dr. Bryan Kelly at New York's Hospital for Special Surgery. The sooner the surgery is done, the sooner the rehab begins and, hopefully, the sooner Harvin can be back on the field.
The surgery is relatively simple but is also relatively new, giving us less to go on in terms of a timetable and results within the top-tier athletic community. The surgeon will perform it arthroscopically, reaching inside the hip joint and either debriding or anchoring the labrum to the normal attachment points inside the acetabular fossa (the "cup" of the hip.)
While inside the joint space, the surgeon will also clean out the hip of any bone chips or spurs, as well as cleaning out the area of any debris. The surgeon will also check the ball, or head of the femur, for any roughness. Both of these are easy to do and cause little trauma. In essence, the surgeon will return the hip to a normal state, aside from the presence of the anchors, if inserted.
Recovery Time and Rehab
The normal recovery time quoted for this type of procedure can range from three to six months. Both of these are estimates and will depend on exactly what the surgeon does inside the hip. More anchors normally means more recovery time. Less debridement or removal of debris means less healing time necessary.
While it is possible to return in as little as three months, it is much more difficult to do so and return to a top-level athletic endeavor. This procedure, which was initially discussed as an option for Harvin, is often called a "halfway" procedure in that only half the normal procedure is done. The hip is cleaned out, but is not deeply debrided or anchored.
According to one protocol for recovery, the patient will return to full range of motion at three months. By the end of five months, the patient is returning to "jogging on treadmill or even ground." In this protocol, the return to sports comes at the five-to-eight-month mark.
While most rehab protocols are not designed for top-level athletes who start at a higher level of physical fitness, including strength and range of motion in many cases, they still provide a guideline as to why this low estimate of three months is exceptionally optimistic.
Ed Reed's Case
While several athletes have had similar surgeries, the best comparable is Ed Reed. Reed is a safety, which is more similar to the physical demands of wide receiver than someone like Kurt Warner (quarterback) or Chris Snee (lineman). I also don't feel like we learn much comparing Harvin to a baseball player like Chase Utley or Alex Rodriguez, or even a hockey player like Marian Gaborik.
Reed had his labrum surgery in early May, his second at the hands of Dr. Marc Philippon. While Reed is hoping to be back for Week 1, that remains in question, starting camp on the PUP list. To be back at Week 1, Reed would be returning a bit later than the four-month mark, which is admittedly aggressive but possible. (This article by B/R's own Dr. Dave Siebert is essential reading on the topic.)
Even at this point, Reed is still having problems with things like opening up the hip and continues to have "tightness and soreness," as noted in this ESPN piece on his rehab. Remember, the original timeline for Reed's return was more aggressive. After the surgery, the timeline was drawn back and that could well be the case once the surgeon gets inside Harvin and determines what is needed to fix the damage.
At a similar four-month mark from the surgery, conveniently done on the first of the month to help my poor math skills, would put Harvin back on the field in December. Again, this is an aggressive timeline, and even a minor setback in the process or following a more standard recovery timeline would put the entire regular season in jeopardy.
Harvin's contract doesn't figure to be a major motivator, though this is hardly something that Harvin, a player that has fervently tried to detach the injury-prone tag from his person, would want to happen. The contract, as noted by Spotrac, has guarantees for injuries and is front-loaded like most NFL free-agent deals.
The Seahawks also took a hit with injury news to their other wide receiver. Sidney Rice, who has had hip problems of his own, is heading to Switzerland for therapy on his knee. This is likely Regenokine therapy, a type that is not approved for use in the United States, but has been used extensively on athletes such as Brian Urlacher and Kobe Bryant.
Between Harvin's hip and Rice's knee, the Seahawks' hopes have taken quite the one-two punch in the last week. Suddenly, Golden Tate is Russell Wilson's top healthy target, and Pete Carroll might not be feeling so well himself.
Will Carroll has been writing about sports injuries for 12 years. His work has appeared at SI.com, ESPN.com and Football Outsiders. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.