It was pretty impressive to see second baseman Dustin Pedroia return to the lineup just eight days after tearing an adductor muscle in his right thumb. It wasn't so much his ability to perform with pain or his desire to come back quickly from an injury. Those qualities were on full display back in 2010, when Pedroia, wearing an immobilizing boot and using crutches after breaking a bone in his foot, was spotted taking grounders at Fenway on his knees. No, the thing that I found impressive was watching him with a bat in his hands -- more precisely, keeping it there.
The simple way to describe the function of the adductor is to say that it pulls the thumb toward the palm. It's that big triangular shaped muscle you can see if you were to lay your hand palm up on the table and point your thumb to the ceiling. So you know it plays a big role in our ability to grip things.
But after speaking with Dr. Charles Day, chief of hand and upper extremity surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, I learned it's not as big a role as I thought.
"While you're sitting there talking to me, just move your thumb into as many different positions as you can," challenged Day. "You'll discover that the thumb has quite a remarkable range of motion. When it comes to gripping, there are a number of muscles in the thumb along with the adductor that do some of that work, not to mention the four healthy fingers."
OK, but we've all seen a bat go flying out of a hitter's hands at one time or another. Weren't you ducking every time you watched Pedroia swing? Or maybe wincing a bit?
"Oh, I'm sure that he's experiencing some discomfort," said Day. "But remember, the tear occurred when the thumb was somehow hyperextended away from the palm when he dove on the infield. He's wearing a brace when he's batting to prevent any chance of that of that happening while he's swinging."
Pedroia hasn't gone into any detail with regard to the severity of the tear, so it's hard to say how long it will take to heal completely. Day indicated that there are occasions when he would choose to immobilize a thumb after a muscle tear, but it would depend upon a number of factors, including the severity of the tear and the patient's need for some functional mobility.
"Most of us don't have to swing a bat for a living, but if you're a carpenter, you do have to swing a hammer," said Day. "In that case, it's not the hammering motion that would risk further damage to a torn adductor. In a situation like that we might have the patient use a brace at the job and then try to do as little as possible in his or her off-hours."
There's no reason to think that the muscle won't heal completely even as Pedroia continues to play. He'll have plenty of top-notch treatment and therapy.
"You and I get muscle tears all the time if we push ourselves a little hard with the weights at the gym, or maybe add a little intensity to our running regimen," said Day. "That soreness you feel for the next few days is all those micro tears repairing themselves."
How about that. Not to take anything away from Pedroia, but now you can say that you play hurt, too.