ONCE YOU'VE typed the words "Brian Westbrook" and "right ankle surgery," it's really hard to keep the typing fingers away from words such as "disaster" or "panic."
But if what the Eagles announced last night, in confirming what agent Todd France said earlier, is the whole truth, Westbrook needs cleanout surgery for bone spurs, not a repair of a high ankle sprain. Though that sounds ominous, it probably isn't.
The team released a statement saying Westbrook "is scheduled to undergo surgery on Friday, June 5, in Baltimore. The surgery, which will be performed by Dr. Mark Myerson, is a debridement of his right ankle."
France told ESPN.com Westbrook needed "minor" surgery for "bone spurs."
Dr. Art Bartolozzi, a former Eagles and Flyers team orthopedist not involved in Westbrook's treatment, said last night that surgery for bone spurs seems more plausible to him right now than surgery for a high ankle sprain, a scenario alluded to in an earlier Comcast SportsNet report. Bartolozzi said high ankle sprains typically are worked on right after they occur, to insert a screw drawing bones together - as Myerson famously did for Terrell Owens in December 2004. No one has said that Westbrook suffered a recent high ankle sprain; he was bothered by one last season, suffered in Week 3.
Bartolozzi said debridement of an ankle would amount to "cleaning up." He said bone spurs are very common and that surgery to remove them can be done either arthroscopically or with a small normal incision, with a recovery time of 6 to 8 weeks. The Eagles are 8 weeks away from full-squad training-camp activity.
"The part of your foot that's closest to the ankle can develop a bone spur," from the up-and-down, pushing off and running motion, Bartolozzi said. "That spur can hit the tibia. That's a very common football injury . . . it's a very successful type surgery, if in fact the spur hitting the distal tibia is what's causing the problem."
If the bone spurs are caused by arthritis, "the pain doesn't go completely away" when the spurs are removed, Bartolozzi said. But he said such a condition is not nearly as debilitating for a running back as a chronic knee injury (which Westbrook also has, of course; his left knee swelled on him all last season and was cleaned out earlier this offseason).
Big picture, it's certainly valid to worry about the accumulation of wear and tear, as Westbrook approaches his 30th birthday Sept. 2. But there is no reason right now to think that he will be limited by his knee or his ankle this season.
"I would say running would be difficult for 6 weeks, minimum. Conservatively, 8 weeks. Could he run sooner? Sure. But he's got a lot of time right now to work," Bartolozzi said.
If Westbrook has just started running when training camp starts, he probably won't participate in the early contact drills. But that's still a good ways from the Comcast report, which held that Westbrook could miss the entire preseason.
It will be interesting to see if the Eagles are concerned enough to add a veteran running back to the positional mix, which includes second-round rookie LeSean McCoy and third-year vet Lorenzo Booker, who has seen little NFL action.
Westbrook saw Myerson at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center yesterday. Myerson treated Westbrook's season-ending foot injury in 2005 but probably is better remembered by Eagles fans for his treatment of Owens. Myerson refused to clear Owens to play in the Super Bowl, but Owens played anyway, after hanging the letter from Myerson in his locker stall as motivation.
Westbrook could not be reached for comment. A Mercy Medical Center spokesman said Myerson would defer to the Eagles in discussing Westbrook.
France said Westbrook probably would not have surgery if this were the regular season. Bartolozzi said trainers are usually able to ease the impingement caused by bone spurs with heavy taping.
"We talked about it when he was at the doctor's office and went through the options and decided it was better to clean it up," France told ESPN. "The ankle has been bothering him since last year." *