Percy Harvin is scheduled to undergo surgery on his ailing hip Thursday with Dr. Bryan Kelly of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Kelly has extensive experience operating on the hips of elite athletes across multiple sports, including Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas and Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora.
The biggest concern for fans and fantasy owners alike is whether Harvin will play this season and at what point he might return. Based on the available information, it appears Harvin has a chance to come back near the end of the regular season, with the earliest return date hovering around the 16-week post-surgery mark. Nov. 21, which happens to be the day Week 12 gets under way, is 16 weeks from this Thursday, the planned surgery date. Interestingly, Seattle has a bye that week, meaning it's likely that the soonest Harvin would be able to play is the following Monday, Dec. 2, when the Seahawks host the Saints.
Naturally, that date is fluid, depending on what specifically is addressed during the operation, how smoothly the recovery process goes and how quickly Harvin can get into football shape following surgery.
AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
Percy Harvin also missed the final seven games of the 2012 season.
So why do surgery now? It's a fair question, given that there were early suggestions that Harvin could try to play through the injury. While it might be admirable for him to attempt to play in the presence of a known injury, it might not be in his or the Seahawks' best interest. For starters, it's possible that he could sustain additional damage, and if the cartilage surface is involved, it could have long-term implications for joint health (think: arthritis). Perhaps more worrisome is the potential for increasing stress across other joints, such as the knee or in the spine. There is even some evidence to suggest an increase in ACL injuries when limitations in the hip are present.
If an athlete is compromised at the hip, he can develop compensations elsewhere to help protect the hip, which can lead to other injuries. Then there's the bottom line of performance. If Harvin experiences pain in his hip or has motion restrictions, it can result in the shutdown of some muscle function around the hip, which will ultimately decrease his power to drive when running and his agility.
In the end, while surgery now takes Harvin out of the Seahawks' equation for a few months, it may pay off later in terms of his overall health.
No specifics have been released as to the surgical plan for Harvin, but based on earlier reports that a labral tear was suspected, the expectation is that the labrum will be either repaired or resected (removal of the damage) via an arthroscopic procedure. Additionally, some resurfacing of the bone will likely be required. The labrum is a ring of fibrocartilage, which adds depth and stability to the hip joint. When the labrum is torn, the athlete typically experiences limited motion along with pain, usually in the front of the hip or groin area. Labral tears are often associated with a condition known as FAI (femoral acetabular impingement). Essentially, FAI exists when the head (ball-shaped portion) of the femur or thighbone and the acetabulum (bone that forms the hip "socket" for the femoral head) repeatedly come into abnormal contact in certain hip positions as a result of the athlete's particular anatomy, combined with the demands of his sport. That repeated contact, or impingement ("pinching") can contribute to labral tearing, as well as other degenerative changes of the joint.
During surgery, along with addressing the labrum, any necessary bone work to correct the impingement can be performed. The more extensive the work required during surgery, the longer the potential recovery. Sometimes the full extent of the injury cannot be fully appreciated until surgery, making it hard to accurately project a timetable in advance. The joint then needs to be protected in the early phases following surgery so the athlete is on crutches, limited in weight-bearing through the hip. Regaining range of motion and light strengthening are the initial focus, with a gradual return to weight-bearing exercises as healing permits. Cardiovascular training and progressive strengthening increase until the athlete moves to sport-specific drills and, ultimately, returns to action.
The sport an athlete plays and the specific positional demands within the sport can influence the amount of time to recover. For instance, hockey players glide on ice, allowing them to return faster than runners who pound into the ground. But a football player whose job involves primarily running might not take as long to return as a lineman whose stance position and repeated explosion out of that position markedly increase stress across the hip joint. In other words, it's a sliding scale, which is why the timeframe typically issued for a labral repair with concurrent resurfacing is 4-6 months.
Harvin's light frame and positional demands allow him to potentially return in the four-month window, presuming no surprises in surgery and a smooth recovery. Even if he does return then, it's possible he will be limited in playing time early on, with a gradual increase in snaps as he tolerates the work.
For Seahawks fans, if the team is able to perform well enough to go deep into the playoffs, Harvin could potentially contribute when they need him most. For fantasy owners, this is not the year to count on him. But don't count him out in 2014.