In the Oklahoma City Thunder's second regular season game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Russell Westbrook exited in the second quarter and remained out until the end of the game due to a hand injury, which we later learned was a fracture in his right (shooting) hand.
In your hand, you have five bones that are extended from your wrist to your thumb as well as your fingers. These are known as the metacarpal bones.
Hand fractures are often repaired through wearing a cast or splint, and in some cases, the fracture is repaired through undergoing a surgery. Typically, people who experience such an injury are likely to wear a splint on their hand for about 3 weeks. However, if the fracture was fixed through a surgery, then they might wear a cast instead of a splint. Surgeries are usually required when the fingers aren't line up correctly or when the metacarpal bones are broken, or when the pain is severe. In Westbrook's case, he had a second metacarpal fracture, which we learned today was repaired through a successful surgery. According to Darnell Mayberry:
Russell Westbrook underwent surgery today in Cleveland on his broken right hand. He will be re-evaluated in four weeks.— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) November 1, 2014
We turn once again to Dr. David Geier, who is an orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist. Dr. Geier has shared his medical expertise extensively with Thunder fans over the past year in regards to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant and is a great source to help us gain a level-headed perspective on the nature of injury and recovery. Dr. Geier was kind enough to answer our questions about Westbrook's metacarpal fracture. Please note that Dr. Geier is NOT involved in Durant's surgical repair or recovery. Also note that these questions were asked of Dr. Geier before Westbrook's successful surgery had been reported.
WTLC: Can you please give us a 60 second education on the structure of the hand and how this injury likely happened?
Dr. Geier: The metacarpals are the long bones of the hand located just beneath the fingers. An athlete can fracture a metacarpal through a direct blow to the hand.
(Ed. evidence indicates that the 'direct blow to the hand' came when Westbrook accidentally struck Kendrick Perkins while going for a rebound)
WTLC: What are the steps involved in repairing this type of injury that Westbrook has sustained?
Dr. Geier: Most second metacarpal fractures line up well, so in many cases, surgery is not needed. Usually the doctor puts the athlete's hand in a splint or cast until the bone has healed enough to start motion of the fingers. The athlete also works with a physical therapist to regain hand and finger strength.
WTLC: Early estimates are that Westbrook could miss anywhere from 6-12 weeks of action. What are some of the determining factors as for how long recovery will take, and what kind of rehab will be involved?
Dr. Geier: One of the main factors to determine recovery time is how long it takes the bone to heal. If the fracture is displaced and needs surgery, it might take longer than a non-displaced fracture that can be treated in a splint. As the bone fully heals, the athlete works to regain motion and strength in order to return to the activities he needs to be able to do on the court.
WTLC: Given that this injury was sustained on Westbrook's shooting hand, what is the likelihood that it will have a material impact on his ability to shoot the ball? What is the likelihood of full recovery?
Dr. Geier: I really can't judge the likelihood of full recovery specifically in his case without knowing the exact nature of his fracture and without being involved. Generally full recovery is likely for an athlete with a metacarpal fracture. In the short term, an athlete would probably struggle to regain fine movements with that hand, but I expect that would improve with time.
Here are some other NBA players who have suffered similar injuries as Westbrook, and what the outcome was.
Danny Green - Green sustained a hand fracture injury last season just as Westbrook. The Spurs announced that he is going to miss 4 weeks, but in-fact he returned a bit earlier.
Kawhi Leonard - Leonard experienced a fourth metacarpal fracture last season against the Thunder and missed around 35 days.
Rajon Rondo - Rondo suffered a fifth metacarpal fracture in late September. He was healed through undergoing a surgery, and missed the entire Celtics training camp.
Based on all evidence, Westbrook will miss around 4-6 weeks of the regular season. He's expected to return in late November or by the beginning of December. Most fractures heal well. D.Green and K.Leonard are great examples for optimism, since they experienced metacarpal fractures, they where spectacular in the 2014 playoffs. The big question now is not whether Westbrook can make a full recovery, but whether the Thunder can win enough games in the meantime whether it will even matter.