What Does Ryan Howard’s Achilles Infection Mean for the Phils?

The Phillies' first baseman left spring training on Monday to get an infection in his surgical wound examined. Is he out?

Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard is down (again)—but is he out?

Local news outlets are reporting that Howard has developed an infection in the wound he received from surgery on his Achilles tendon in October. Howard reportedly left spring training in Clearwater, Florida, on Monday to see the Baltimore physician who performed the surgery. His wounds were cleaned and examined, but there’s no word yet on when Howard will be able to return to the practice field.

According to 6ABC, Phillies head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan said the infection isn’t a setback, and that Howard’s Achilles tendon is still perfectly intact. But, realistically, what kind of healing time are we looking at?

“If his repair is intact, that means the tendon itself has healed, and that’s a good thing” says J. Milo Sewards, an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at Temple. “It sounds like they’re still on track for getting him back within the six-month timeframe of his surgery date.”

Infection, Sewards says, is always a possibility with this kind of surgery, with staph and strep being the two most common. And Howard’s developing an infection probably had little to do with his meticulousness (or not) in keeping the wound clean. “It truly can be a random thing,” Sewards says. “You can have a patient who’s doing everything the surgeon asked and this still happens.”

The normal course of treatment includes a visit to a doctor to get the wound cleaned and re-sutured. Sewards says most patients have to go back on the operating table—and back under anesthesia—for the doctor to perform what’s called irrigation and debridement: opening the wound back up, clearing out infected tissue, washing the surgical site, and stitching it closed. A round of antibiotics typically follows. A few patients will get local anesthesia and be awake during the procedure, but Sewards says that’s rare. Based on news reports, it’s unclear which treatment Howard received.

Here’s the good news, Phillies fans: Sewards says as long as the Achilles tendon is truly healed, there’s no real danger of Howard coming back to the field too soon.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s walking around completely normal right now,” says Sewards. “Now it’s a matter of being cautious to make sure the wound heals fully.”