Brock Purdy took a slightly unconventional route with his elbow surgery this offseason, and it could pay dividends for his recovery.
Brock Purdy tore his UCL in the NFC Championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles in early 2023. The traditional recourse to get a player back to the field for such an injury is Tommy John surgery, common among MLB pitchers with UCL tears.
The problem, though, is that Tommy John surgery comes with a lengthy recovery period, and for Purdy, that would likely mean missing the entirety of the 2023 NFL season. Given his sudden ascension to a starting quarterback role in 2022, that would have been unideal for both him and the San Francisco 49ers.
An alternative to Tommy John came about around 2008, first thought of in Birmingham, Alabama by Dr. James Andrews and Dr. Jeffrey Dugas built on some prior research. It’s called InternalBrace augmentation and it brings the recovery time down to a matter of months, rather than a year-plus.
If the recovery goes according to plan, Purdy could begin a throwing program in early June and ostensibly return to full play before the 2023 regular season begins.
What is InternalBrace augmentation?
InternalBrace augmentation is explained by one of the initial researchers, Dugan, as follows:
“…a collagen dipped, fiber tape which is spanning the outside of the native ligament after repairing the native ligament to either the proximal or distal attachment using a 3.5 mm anchor on each end.”
As told in more layman terms by Nick Wagoner and Stephanie Bell at ESPN:
“In 2006 and 2008, Dr. Felix Savoie had published a pair of papers about the potential for using anchors, a screw mechanism made of metal or biodegradable materials which can dissolve in the body over time, which could be inserted into the bone and held in place by a suture attaching to the ligament, to repair the UCL.”
Also according to that ESPN article, there are some unknowns before going under the knife with this surgery. It’s unclear up until the incision is made and the surgeons can get a look at the ligament whether or not InternalBrace will actually work.
If the ligament were damaged beyond a certain point, the surgeons would have no choice but to go the Tommy John route, which again, has a far longer recovery period.
The 49ers were waiting to hear back from the surgeons on if the InternalBrace augmentation was a go. Thankfully, it worked, and as is told by Wagoner and Bell, the Niners were able to spend on the defensive side in part because they had faith Purdy would return to play before the season starts.
Is Brock Purdy first NFL player to get InternalBrace augmentation?
No, Purdy is not the first. According to Wagoner and Bell’s article, then-Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence also received the surgery in 2021.