July 22 (UPI) -- Dr. Derek Ochiai -- a leading board-certified hip arthroscopic surgeon and sports medicine expert in Arlington, Va. -- told UPI that Denver Nuggets star Isaiah Thomas could have lingering issues with his hip, despite undergoing surgery in March.
Thomas, 29, played in just 32 games last season for the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Lakers due to the ailment. He opted not to have surgery during the 2017 offseason with the Boston Celtics, despite dealing with a labrum tear. Thomas was traded to the Cavaliers in August, but did not make his debut for the team until Jan. 2 as he attempted to rehab the injury.
He was traded to the Lakers a month later. Thomas' hip issues flared up again in March before he opted for arthroscopic surgery. In May Thomas tweeted that he was finally "pain free."
"When you deal with that type of hip injury for years, the issue isn't whether you can repair your labrum or reshape the bone that's causing the problem to begin with ... the problem is that you start getting gliding cartilage damage," said Ochiai, who works with numerous professional athletes.
Ochiai said that athletes often try to treat the hip conditions non-operatively. If they start hurting at the beginning or middle of the season, they go through rehab and get injections around the hip. Athletes have the surgery in the offseason if they aren't getting better through rehab.
"Gliding cartilage damage, when that becomes severe, is arthritis," Ochiai said. "So the longer someone kinda plays through a hip, especially if its symptomatic for them and they can play through it, the more likely they are to start getting early arthritis. We don't have a cure for arthritis in 2018. We can treat it and can do injections ..."
"We don't have a way of making a hip look normal, like it looks like it never had arthritis. We don't have that yet. If he does have some gliding cartilage damage, that's going to still be there. Hopefully he is a lot better now that he has had the surgery and a full season to recover. I'm hopeful he'll do well, but certainly it's not a given. There could be some lingering hip issues."
Thomas averaged 15.2 points per game last season. The two-time All-Star signed with the Nuggets on July 12, but only received a one-year contract. Teams were likely weary of offering a long-term deal to Thomas, due to the possibility of the injury popping back up.
I haven’t been able to really workout & get better in over a year! Finally pain free. This is going to be fun!!! #ThatSLOWgrind— Isaiah Thomas (@isaiahthomas) May 16, 2018
The nature of Thomas' point guard position could also pose a problem for his comfort on the court. Floor generals are often required to make sudden movements and cuts while running the offense.
"Side to side cutting and changing direction is typically where people with hip issues will feel it first," Ochiai said. "Start, stop and change of direction."
Ochiai said he sees the injury commonly from athletes in hockey and soccer. Those sports require quick moments and twisting your body, while athletes like distance runners can have the injury and still run at an elite level.
"[Thomas] should be as good as he's going to get from a recovery standpoint," Ochiai said. "The amount of further improvement he's going to get from that surgery is negligible at this point. Whatever his hip is, that's his hip."
Ochiai said that if Thomas has gliding cartilage damage or early arthritis, his hip could deterogte over time.
"If that would happen, he would not be a productive member of that team so that might limit how many years you want to give him [on a contract]."