Tom Curry had to have hip ‘stitched back together’ after ‘extensive damage’ done, surgeon reveals

Jared Wright
Tom Curry stretching at England training.

Tom Curry stretching at England training.

Tom Curry’s season was written off after the outstanding flanker had surgery to repair a hip injury following the Rugby World Cup, but he has made a remarkable recovery to return to Test action on Saturday.

The 26-year-old has been named on the bench for England’s game against Japan, just a few months after going under the knife.

Damian Griffin, who is a Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Warwick, was the surgeon that operated on Curry and revealed to Planet Rugby the extent of the issue and the background behind the problem.

Griffin also praised the professionalism of the Sale Sharks star and the people around him, who were incredibly diligent in helping the back-rower get back to full fitness.

The condition

Curry suffers from femoroacetabular impingement syndrome, which means the ball in the hip joint is not entirely round – ironically more “rugby ball shaped” according to his surgeon – and results in damage to that area.

In professional athletes, that natural wear and tear is heightened and at the age of 25 he was forced to get it sorted.

It entailed having keyhole surgery to make the hip more “soccer ball-shaped” so that it is not rubbing in the socket before repairing the labral tear.

“I had to stitch all that back together again and reattach it to the edge of the socket where it had torn away,” Griffin told Planet Rugby. “The other problem was this loss of cartilage, so I put in a graft to grow new cartilage in the socket and the graft is synthetic.

“But in order to actually get cartilage in it, I took stem cells from his bone marrow and processed those stem cells and then put them into the graft inside his hip to grow a new surface in the joint.”

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Curry returned in Sale’s Premiership semi-final defeat to Bath, playing over half-in-hour during the 31-23 reversal at the Rec.

It was a quite staggering comeback from the flanker considering his lengthy absence as he thundered into contact, both with and without the ball.

Too early?

That display was enough to convince Steve Borthwick that he was ready for England, despite concerns from the Sharks’ director of rugby Alex Sanderson.

There were fears that returning to such a high level would be damaging for Curry but, in the short term, there are no such concerns according to Griffin.

However, it is an issue that may need to be revisited later in his career.

“The damage was really bad and the surgery can’t make it perfect. The idea of the surgery is to make it feel better to the extent that he can train and he’s done an amazingly good job of rehabilitating and he’s had some really good people working with him, both in his club and working with him personally to help him to recover fully,” he said.

“He and I will be keeping in touch and I’ll be keeping an eye on his hip and, in the long run, there may be more issues, but in the short term in terms of getting back to play, the whole idea is that he is fit.”

Curry described the injury as a “car crash” but Griffin praised his resilience after what was an extremely testing ordeal.

“When I first met him, he couldn’t train, and he couldn’t play. So for him, that was obviously a major thing that he couldn’t do his job,” he said.

“And he was very clear that he wished to be able to carry on playing at the highest level and when we looked at the scans, there was very extensive damage so we had to have some pretty serious conversations about what was realistic and what we could actually do about it.

“But he was very clear that what he wanted was to be able to get back to playing. And so he was looking for anything that would enable him to do that.

“The whole experience was really tough for him, but he’s a very tough guy and he’s come through it incredibly well.”

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Comparison with Murray

When the word hip is linked with top British sports people, tennis player Andy Murray immediately springs to mind after he had a metal hip inserted to continue playing.

That was an option for Curry but it was the least desirable for both Griffin and the 26-year-old flanker.

“Andy Murray did have an operation which put a metal bearing joint in his hip, it’s called a metal resurfacing,” he said.

“And I do that for people, and I’ve done a lot of rugby players, actually.

“I put a metal hip in Sean O’Brien, which is the same sort of thing as Andy Murray, but we didn’t want to do that with Tom because we thought there was a chance that we could repair his hip and get him playing with his own natural hip, which is always better than having an artificial one.

“So guys are playing rugby with metal hips, but if you can avoid having an artificial hip, then you avoid some of the risks of having artificial things inside you. So if we can rescue it, that’s a lot more attractive.”

It has been a long and tough road to recovery for Curry, but Griffin hailed his diligence both before and after the operation in getting back on the field.

“He was a complete professional. He was very keen to understand exactly what had happened. He wanted to talk to me about precisely what the injury was and what the options were for treating it and the pros and cons of each of those options,” he said.

“He wanted to make sure that he understood that completely, but then once he decided what he wanted to do, he was 100% committed.

“I think he fully understood that getting on really well after this surgery was going to depend on him being really conscientious about his rehabilitation, and I believe he’s been completely 100% on top of that right the way through. So enormous, enormous credit to him and the rehabilitation team who have looked after him.”

Thank you to Damian for his time.

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