BOSTON -- It may not have qualified as a bombshell, but when Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., and started talking "clean up," it caught more than a few folks by surprise. In a town full of fans that devour and surgically dissect every tidbit of information about their beloved ballclub, Drew's declaration was a surprise.
In case you missed it, Drew wasn't sore about where he was batting last season, he was sore when he was batting. The right fielder disclosed that he had been bothered by a painful left shoulder much of the 2009 season and received two cortisone shots in an attempt to find relief. But when his balky left shoulder didn't improve, even in the offseason, he opted for the surgical solution.
"It certainly sounds as though the Red Sox took a prudent approach," said Dr. Joe DeAngelis, a surgeon in the department of orthopedics at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who specializes in sports medicine and shoulder surgery. "You always start with the most conservative treatment such as rest and rehabilitation. If the pain and the inflammation persist, a more invasive approach may be warranted."
In Drew's case, the team's medical staff had X-rays and MRIs that revealed evidence of bone spurs in the Acromioclavicular, or AC joint. For the layman, the acromion is the part of our shoulder blade that forms the highest point of the shoulder and the clavicle is our collarbone. Usually, their interaction is painless, but bone spurs interfere, causing inflammation and pain. It was in his non-throwing shoulder, but as fans know, batting works best with both arms.
"Given what he does for a living and the strain that playing professional baseball can put on a body, an injury like this is not unusual," says DeAngelis. "I also see it in folks who do a lot of weightlifting, either in their work or recreationally. I would say somewhere between two-and-a-half and five percent of the patients I see with shoulder pain might require a surgical intervention."
One aspect of this story that surprised me was the fact that Drew opted for open surgery on his shoulder rather than arthroscopic surgery. I was under the impression that arthroscopic was less invasive and always resulted in a quicker recovery. DeAngelis set me straight.
"It really depends upon the nature of the injury and the process necessary to repair it," DeAngelis said. "In this case, it appears they had a lot of evidence that identified the bone spurs as the source of the problem. A single incision at the AC joint would be enough to give the surgeon access to remove them. The incision was probably a couple of centimeters long. The two incisions you would have needed for the arthroscopic instruments would each be a centimeter or so. We are not talking about a lot of stitches in either case."
Drew also mentioned that the surgeon "shaved off the end of his bone." Sounds to me like the fix may be worse than the problem. Once again, I would be mistaken.
"It's like cutting off the end of a carrot or a piece of celery," DeAngelis said. "But not a half an inch like you or I would do with the vegetables. We are talking about a sliver of bone -- just enough to provide relief."
While I may never think about chopping vegetables quite the way I used to, the hope is that Drew won't be thinking about his shoulder at all this season. He can swing freely and provide a little more meat in the heart of the lineup.
Gary Gillis is a contributor to MLB.com. The BID Injury Report is a regular column on redsox.com. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of The Boston Red Sox. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.