The hip injury that brought an end to Baltimore Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta's season should not be a career-ending one, according to experts.
“There’s no ligament damage, no cartilage damage,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Monday, according to baltimoreravens.com. “It’s a clean break if you want to use that term, and he should be rehabbing in six to eight weeks. So, it’s good news.”
The injury that dislocated and fractured the hip of the former BYU standout is a rare one on the football field; Harbaugh said he's seen only eight documented cases of similar injuries in football players.
An orthopedic hip surgeon told the Baltimore Sun that the right hip injury Pitta had shouldn't jeopardize his NFL career.
"With a professional athlete like Dennis, his rehabilitation protocol should allow for him to return to full capability by next season," said Dr. Derek Ochiai, who is based in Arlington, Va. "I would expect him to be ready by the middle of (next) summer. What they let him do as far as offseason stuff and training camp next year is obviously far ahead of him and up to the Ravens and Dennis. But with a lot of hard work and patience, he should be back."
The injury happened Saturday during Ravens practice on a Joe Flacco pass into the end zone. Pitta went up to catch the ball and, according to baltimoreravens.com, he landed on his knee, which dislocated the hip.
“Basically, the ball was pushed out of the socket and pushed backwards,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an injury that happens a lot of times in car accidents. He got his knee caught up under him in an awkward way when he fell.”
One case of a similar injury ending a football career is that of multi-sport star Bo Jackson. During a 1990 playoffs game, Jackson was hurt while being tackled and suffered a hip subluxation, according to a study performed by Duke University Medical Center researchers.
Jackson, who at the time played outfield for the Kansas City Royals and running back for the Oakland Raiders, never suited up in another NFL game. His baseball career lasted three more seasons.
According to the Baltimore Sun, the reason Jackson's injury was so damaging was because he developed avascular necrosis, which is a disease that results from the interruption of blood supply to the femoral head in the thigh.
"Hip subluxation is an unusual, although potentially devastating injury that is an inherent risk of participating in American football," Claude T. Moorman, M.D., orthopedic surgeon and director of the sports medicine program at Duke, said in the study, which released its findings in 2003.
"The joint is encased in a capsule, and when there is subluxation, the resulting blood and fluid buildup within this confined space appears to put pressure on the blood vessels, potentially cutting off or limiting the supply of blood," Moorman said. "In a complete dislocation, these fluids are dispersed, so in this way, a partial dislocation can possibly lead to a worse outcome than complete dislocation if not diagnosed and treated."
In Pitta's case, he went into surgery Saturday night to put the bone back in place, a potentially good sign for the future because there was little time for more damage to develop.
"If it's true that the cartilage is OK, he can recover completely because a fracture can heal stronger than it was before," Dr. William Long, medical director of Orthopaedic Computer Surgery Institute at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles, told the Baltimore Sun. "The cartilage, if it's damaged, you'd never recover. You don't get cartilage back."
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