CHASE CENTER — Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry will miss at least three months after undergoing hand surgery on Friday, a timetable that orthopedic surgeon Dr. Daniel Osei called “ultraconservative.”
“I’m having a hard time imagining how a second metacarpal fracture takes three months to heal,” said Osei, a product of the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and a hand and upper extremity specialist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. “I can’t come up with any scenario. There’s some other piece to this puzzle that’s not clear … Maybe they are being ultra-conservative in getting him back, given the state of the team. Maybe it makes sense, given what’s going on with the team.”
Golden State would have to have had near-perfect luck all season for a thin and young roster to be in playoff contention by the time Klay Thompson returned from ACL reconstruction in late February. Injuries to Kevon Looney and Jacob Evans, to go along with Thompson and now Curry’s absences, all but scuttle those plans.
Despite an ultra-competitive front office that doesn’t suffer losing lightly, the Warriors are likely being particularly cautious with the face of the franchise, and don’t want to rush him back for what is likely a lottery-bound season. However, there are other medical reasons for the lengthy recovery.
“Maybe it was more of a dislocation,” said Osei, who has not examined Curry, but has operated on a handful of other NBA players. “That’s possible — where he broke the bone, it came out of the joint, and that would explain it — but index metacarpal fractures almost irrespective of location will heal — the bone part — within six weeks, with or without surgery.”
Recovery time could be added or subtracted depending on where along the length of the second metacarpal the fracture occurred. Metacarpal neck fractures — which occur near the knuckle — are quicker to heal, and typically occur due to a punching motion. Breaks closer to the wrist — a more high-impact, high-energy injury, which is what the two-time MVP likely sustained — are commonly associated with dislocation, and while they heal quickly, the hand’s strength may take longer to return.
Golden State’s statement on Curry’s surgery indicated that his condition will be updated in three months, not that he will be ready to play. He may need time beyond that to strengthen the hand.
“The art of getting a guy back who plays an elite sport is complicated,” said Osei, a former soccer player at Princeton. “There’s the healing part of the condition, and that’s the same whether you’re an NBA basketball player or whether you’re a soccer mom. Then, there’s what does this person have to do with their hand aspect of it. That does complicate things.”
Because the injured hand is Curry’s guide hand and not his dominant shooting hand, there may be less demanded of it, but the real trick comes on defense.
“It’s all the other stuff — the defending, the swatting of balls, the landing on your hand again, and frankly, trying to make sure that you don’t re-injure the area,” Osei said. “At three months, I will say that most of these fractures go from, ‘It’s healed, but you could reinjure yourself,’ to healed enough that you basically can’t.”
The fact that there was surgery in the first place indicates that Curry suffered a displaced fracture — one where the two pieces of the bone become misaligned — but there is no information available on the exact nature of Curry’s injury. It could have been repaired using either a plate or screws, both of which are common in elite athletes, and both of which have benefits and drawbacks.
“It really depends on the pattern of the fracture and the location,” Osei said. “Plates are used because they’re a little bit stronger, so it allows for more initial strength, so basically, you can get somebody back a little bit faster.
“Screws are great because they’re more low-profile, and may not bother someone as much, because you can’t feel screws as much as you can feel a plate, but the downside is that thye’re not as strong, so the chance of re-injury is a little bit higher. Really, it’s a combination of the location, the pattern of the injury and issues related to how quickly you’re trying to get a guy back.”