Should He Chance It Or Undergo Surgery Now?

By Abby Sims
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If Matt Harvey was an everyday guy pitching in a Central Park league and he opted to try conservative management after partially tearing his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL), we wouldn’t give it a second thought.

With an uncertain outcome either way – and greater overall risks with surgery – what would he have to lose? It wouldn’t be as though his livelihood depended on the result. And, after all, if rehab alone didn’t wind up being the answer, surgery could be done later. The primary downside would be time spent or, depending on how you look at it, time lost.

That’s my point exactly. It also appears to be a point made by Mets management, though the choice has rightly been left to the All-Star.

Harvey will now reportedly weigh Dr. James Andrews’ opinion with the others he’s received before deciding whether to opt for Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Though much has been written about Harvey’s consultation with the Phillies’ Roy Halladay – who continued to pitch with much success after non-surgical management of his elbow issues in 2006 – it has also been reported that Halladay evidently did not have a significant tear. It appears his symptoms may have been due primarily to muscle and/or tendon pathology rather than ligament. Still, he took a calculated risk that might not have had a happy ending.

Harvey was quoted as saying that his elbow is feeling great now. That certainly is a positive, but not only is he likely receiving treatment, the fact that he hasn’t been pitching is certainly relevant. Minus the demands pitching normally places on it, Harvey’s elbow is evidently not so acutely painful that routine activities of daily living are problematic. Though I get his ambivalence, that may not be enough of an overriding factor to justify ruling out surgery.

However, we’ll soon see how the majority rules.

Mark Teixeira is one of a number of players who, with perfect hindsight, might like a time machine to reverse his chance-it-and-see versus surgery-now decision. Granted, it was a different injury, but that doesn’t make him any less of an illustration. There are a number of others who’ve had Teixeira’s experience.

It takes up to a year for a ligament to heal, and, because it is the primary stabilizer of the elbow, a weakened UCL creates stresses to other tissues in the area. Rehab will be considerable whether Harvey has surgery now or not, but the threat of having to do it twice looms large.

For more on the UCL and Tommy John surgery, take a look at this prior column on Harvey.

Follow Abby on Twitter @abcsims.

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