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Lowell is making progress

He's following standard pattern

MIKE LOWELLHe's off crutches MIKE LOWELLHe's off crutches
By Adam Kilgore
Globe Staff / November 15, 2008
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Mike Lowell's recovery from right hip surgery is on schedule and "seems to be going very well," said Bryan Kelly, the surgeon who operated on the Red Sox third baseman's torn labrum.

Lowell underwent surgery in New York Oct. 20, the day after the Sox' playoff run concluded. The typical recovery time is 4-6 months. Lowell is already off crutches, Kelly said, and is expected to follow the standard recovery pattern.

Yesterday in a telephone interview, Kelly shared details about Lowell's injury and procedure and expressed optimism for a full recovery.

"I think there's a good chance he'll be the same," Kelly said. "The pro athletes that I've dealt with that have this type of surgery are typically able to get back to their full level of function without losing much.

"If there is some degree of permanent damage, is that damage going to become progressively worse? It probably has more to do with longevity of one's career. Will he come back like he was? That's what we all want to know. I'm optimistic."

Michael Fucito, a senior captain on the Harvard soccer team, understands what Lowell will endure. He underwent the same operation as Lowell this past summer and also had his surgery performed by Kelly. Before the surgery, Fucito said, he often felt tightness in his lower back and lack of mobility in his hip (the pain became so sharp he could no longer relax his leg out to the side).

Once he returned from rehabilitation, Fucito initially felt pain in his hamstring owing to overcompensation, but that went away. He noticed the back pain disappear and increased flexibility in his hip.

"I probably wouldn't have been able to play at all this season if I hadn't gotten it done by Dr. Kelly," Fucito said. "Once my hip fully caught up strength-wise, everything kind of fell into place. I'm pain-free, which is what I've noticed the most. I feel good. The hardest thing was just getting back into shape. Once I was able to do so, I felt better than before.

Fucito, 22, has not met or spoken to Lowell but he was aware that Lowell had chosen Kelly as well. "I thought it was cool," Fucito said.

Lowell's injury caused him pain for a variety of reasons, allowing to a condition called femoroacetabular impingement, in which the femoral head - the ball-shaped part of the bone in the hip that attaches the leg to the pelvis - fits abnormally into the socket. This causes friction during hip movements, which damages the joint.

The condition occurs when underdeveloped hip joints take on high rotational loads, which is why hockey and soccer players typically get it. A person can also be born with it, which Kelly said is likely in Lowell's case.

A surgeon's ability to alter the course of the damage, Kelly said, is related to the degree of damage to the cartilage around the joint. Because of this, the younger the patient is, the fuller the recovery that can be expected.

"There's some cartilage wear," Kelly said. "I would expect that it won't be something that will ultimately affect his outcome.

"I wouldn't call Mike over the hill. Certainly, younger athletes have more healthy cartilage. As you get older - we all have wrinkles on our face - cartilage starts to dry up. Mike is 34. That's still not a bad age. Cartilage is pretty good then."

In Lowell's case, the damage was multifold. He had several small fractures in the rims of his bones around the joint in the hip. He had a torn adductor tendon. When the cartilage began to tear, Lowell fell victim to the "nutcracker effect," Kelly said - two abnormally shaped bones squeezing torn tissues.

Lowell tried to grit his way through the playoffs, but the pain became so intense he missed the final game of the American League Division Series and did not play in the AL Championship Series. "It can be very painful," Kelly said.

Adam Kilgore can be reached at akilgore@globe.com

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