To get surgery or not – Labral Tears

Over the past three years I have received many emails and facebook messages asking about the Labral tear hip surgery that I undertook in 2009.  I gather that those who have contacted me are only a small percentage of runners who are facing this possible surgery, so by writing a blog post on my experience, and recovery, I hope I can provide a permanent (albeit unscientific) resource on the matter.

From 2004 to 2009 I had an odd sensation in my hip-flexor that would flare up every now and then, particularly when I had gotten up from a low squat position following a run.  Thus, bathroom stops after running were a primary source of this tightness I would feel.   However, with a quick aggressive stretch, the pain/tightness would disappear.   In February of 2009, I was playing a round of golf (after a 10 mile run in the morning), and as I squatted down to line up a putt, my hip locked up, and from that point on it never released.

My sports doctor and physiotherapist in New Zealand diagnosed it as a FAI Labral tear, but didn’t want me to jump into surgery right away, as there had been cases where patients’ symptoms had gone away with manual treatment, biomechanical corrections and rest.  After two months of daily treatment the pain only got worse though, and we made the decision to pursue surgery­–walking even 50m was a great struggle!

I was recommended to try and get an appointment with world-renowned hip specialist, Dr Marc Philipon, in Vail, Colorado.   My wife and I flew into Colorado with just our carry-on luggage, expecting to have a consult and fly home to consider our options, but within ten minutes of seeing Dr Philipon, he was certain I needed surgery, and there was no point delaying the inevitable.  They scheduled my surgery for the following morning, and highly recommended we stay in Vail for a minimum of two weeks, to get twice-daily physical therapy from their specialized post-surgery support team.

Although it was an arthroscopic surgery, it certainly was no light procedure. It became a 4-hour ordeal where they used traction to open up my hip socket (causing a lot of trauma on my hip flexors in the process), and then they shaved down the femoral head to its normal shape, and tied down my labrum with some form of surgical ties.

Rehab was a grind and very slow.  Twice a day, for four months I received intense treatment, aiding in the gradual mobility of my hip joint. Healing and re-training my body to function normally again was a full-time job.  My surgery was April 1st, and I did my first run (all 30 seconds of it in mid-July).  The main issue wasn’t the surgical site itself, but all the damaged hip-flexor tendons from the traction required to open up my hip-socket.  By mid-September I was back to running normally again and thankfully, I have never had any further complications or pain in my hip.  2009 was a lost season, but I won a commonwealth medal in 2010, and ran PB’s in 2011, and 2012.

For those of you facing this problem, I feel for you.  It is not a fun place to be.  If you end up getting surgery, it is not a pleasant experience, and takes a while to get back running again.  Not all cases end up as well as mine did, but hopefully my success story with Dr Philipon will provide some help when assessing your options.

(NCAA champion, Sheilla Reid, is another success story of Dr Philipon)


4 thoughts on “To get surgery or not – Labral Tears

  1. Great article nick, I have had both my left and right hips labral repairs done, one of which in 2007 was crucial in me being able to go on to compete at the Beijing Olympics the following year…so would recommend if its an option!
    Hope your training going great and you excited about being a dad!!

  2. Thank you so much for the article! Both me and my now fiance had labral tears and had surgery. It was quite a struggle as we were both still competing in college, but well worth it in the end to run pain free! We look to your success for inspiration to keep at it! Thanks again!

  3. Nick,

    I’m curious, so was your diagnosis that you had FAI and that precipitated the labral tear? First off I’m a big fan. It’s refreshing to see someone out there with your attitude running, and running well!
    As far as my story, I was recently diagnosed with FAI and I’m assessing my options. I’ve been doing PT to equivocal success. I feel like I’ve got better strength and control in my glutes but I still experience pain.

    So your surgery was to fix both bone spurs (FAI) and the labral tear? How has your recovery been since surgery? What I mean is, obviously you’ve been running well but does the hip still bother you? Are there things you need to do to maintain it?

    Also, what were key exercise to your recovery post surgery?

    Love to hear from you and good luck this season!

    1. Hi Charlie. Yes, I was ultimately diagnosed with both. I tried PT for two months, but it only deteriorated and eventually I couldn’t even walk. Mind you, I probably had some degree of tear and FAI for 5 years prior to this sudden rapid deterioration. Since I recovered from surgery (and the 6 months of rehab), I have had next to no hip pain since. I have been very blessed with this, and it is the least of my concern these days while training harder and longer than I ever have. I understand that not all have this level of post surgery success (health wise). My elementary advice is to do PT and train as best as possible, and only get surgery once you have no more options.

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