Assessing the Thunder’s Summer of SurgeryGetty Images

Assessing the Thunder’s Summer of Surgery

Royce Young reported yesterday that both Paul George and Russell Westbrook underwent surgery for injuries sustained during the end of the regular season. George underwent surgery to repair a tear in his right rotator cuff, while Westbrook had his metacarpophalangeal ligament in his left 4th finger surgically repaired, and an arthroscopic procedure on his right knee. Later this summer, George will also have a small tear in his the labrum of his left shoulder surgically repaired.

If you’re keeping count that’s four different surgeries. So, let’s break down what all of this means, starting with George’s rotator cuff.

What is a rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff refers to four muscles (the supraspinatus, infraspinatus, teres minor, and subscapularis) which stabilize the shoulder joint. These muscles are responsible for several actions including raising and lowering the arm, elevating and depressing the shoulder, and circular motion around the shoulder joint– so basically everything you need to be able to do to play basketball. Each of these muscles is attached to either the humerus (upper arm bone) or the scapula (shoulder blade) via a tendon. According to Adrian Wojnarowski, George tore one of these tendons and it will need to be surgically repaired.

What is the recovery process for a rotator cuff tear?

The surgery requires re-attaching the torn tendon to its bone. Post-surgery, George will be in an arm sling for 4-6 weeks that will prevent him from moving his shoulder. The typical recovery time for rotator cuff repair surgery is 4-6 months depending on the severity of the tear. The team announced that they expect George to be back by the start of training camp in October, but that seems optimistic. Understandably, the team let George play through this injury during the playoffs, but I hope that the medical staff will exercise caution and allow him to fully recover before allowing him to return.

What is a labrum?

The labrum is a thin, fibrous (cartilage) ring that lines the shoulder socket. Its function is to stabilize the shoulder socket and facilitate circular rotation of the shoulder, without dislocation. Labrum tears don’t always require surgery, but it appears that George’s tear is large enough that it will need to be surgically repaired.

What is the recovery process for a labrum tear?

A torn labrum has a faster recovery time compared to the rotator cuff repair. George’s left shoulder will be immobilized for 4-6 weeks, but he should be able to return to practice in 3-4 months. Typically, the orthopedic surgeon will only want one arm immobilized at a time. Therefore, I would expect that George will have this surgery after he regains function in his right arm (roughly 6 weeks post-rotator cuff repair).

Now, moving on to Russell Westbrook’s injuries.

What is the metacarpophalangeal ligament?

Erik Horne, of the Daily Oklahoman, reported that Westbrook tore his 4th metacarpophalangeal (MCP) ligament on his left hand. This ligament acts to stabilize the knuckle (metacarpophalangeal, MCP) joint.

What is the recovery process for a MCP ligament tear?

An MCP ligament tear is a relatively minor injury. After the ligament is repaired, Russ’ fourth finger will be immobilized by taping it to his adjacent finger (known as buddy-taping). Westbrook can continue to play post-surgery (with his fingers taped), but he should be back to normal function and movement within 3 weeks.

What is arthroscopic knee surgery?

Arthroscopic knee surgery involves making small cuts around the knee and inserting a small instrument that scrapes away damaged tissue and cartilage. When a player has knee surgery, as Russ did in 2013, scar tissue can build up and make the knee joint less mobile and more painful to move. This procedure fixes that problem by clearing away any unwanted tissue build-up or damage.

What is the recovery process for arthroscopic knee surgery?

In Westbrook’s case, this surgery is preventive meaning there’s likely nothing wrong with his knee right now (maybe some soreness), but the strain of the 2019-2020 season could exacerbate his soreness. This is the same knee that Russ had surgery on in 2013 after tearing his meniscus. Westbrook also underwent arthroscopic surgery in this knee prior to the start of the 2018-2019 season, which caused him to miss pre-season and 2 regular season games. Since Westbrook is having the arthroscopic surgery much earlier this time, he should be cleared for play well before the start of pre-season (about 4 weeks).

Long story short, I would expect for Paul George to be absent from basketball activities all summer. Assuming that George won’t have his labrum repaired for another 6 weeks and I’m being optimistic, I would project that he will return to the court in November. The good news is that Russell Westbrook’s injuries and procedures appear to be relatively minor and precautionary. He should have plenty of time to make an appointment with Chris Matthews…