Why Phillies’ Bryce Harper needs surgery, explained by a doctor

Bryce Harper’s broken left thumb, suffered last week vs. the Padres, is threatening to put a serious halt to the Phillies’ playoff push.

Harper was in the middle of another MVP-level season with the Phils despite playing through an elbow injury, but he’s expected to miss somewhere in the neighborhood of six weeks according to a report Tuesday from NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury.

READ: Harper will have thumb surgery, not expected to miss season

To get an idea of what we should expect from the recovery timeline, and to get a better sense of why Harper will be out for so long, we asked Dr. J. Milo Sewards, the Chair of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at School of Medicine at Temple University, to give us an expert’s opinion on the broken thumb and what Harper will spend the next six weeks doing.

Sewards wasn’t all doom and gloom, but he confirmed that watching the injury looked “really worrisome” – not exactly the descriptor Phils fans were hoping for.

“When you have a thumb fracture you worry about grip strength, you worry about the ability to hold a bat, and so certainly this is concerning going into the end of the season,” Sewards explained.

“The thumb itself is a particularly important finger. In other fingers there are bones that can break and you can just buddy tape them to another finger, but with the thumb, when you have a fracture there, it certainly affects your grip strength.”

MORE: Phillies trade ideas with Bryce Harper out for six weeks

Sewards explained that while fractures in the hand or fingers can be treated without surgery, as was likely the initial hope with Harper’s injury, that presents its own problem: uncertainty about when the bone is fully healed. X-rays, Sewards said, don’t always show complete healing even if a patient is no longer experiencing pain and has largely regained function in the hand or finger.

“In an athlete, you may want to do surgery to ensure there is stability of the fracture and enable an earlier return,” Sewards said.

As part of the surgery, Harper will have “very small implants” that are designed to avoid irritating the soft tissues around the fracture, Sewards explained. He said the goal is to leave the implants in the finger permanently.

If things go smoothly, Sewards thinks the reported six-week timeline makes sense for Harper’s return.

“Fractures around the hand tend to heal a little bit faster than on other parts of the body,” Sewards said, “and as I said X-rays tend to lag behind a little bit.

“So even if you can see the fracture, which may not be the case after you fix it, you would expect he should be able to move it earlier than he would if it were treated without surgery and begin working on his grip strength and get back to swinging a bat roughly around six weeks.”

Salisbury reported Tuesday that having Harper back and healthy by Sept. 1 would be a “win” for the team. Right now the Phillies stand at 39-36, three games out of the final 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. There will be just 30 games left on the schedule at that point.

It’s not going to be easy, but the Phils have to make it work somehow while their best player heals up – and hopefully gears up for a mad dash to the postseason when he returns.

Leave a Comment