How Athletes Have Played After Returning From Major Surgery

A look at ten athletes who who underwent major surgery, and how they fared when they made it back onto the field.

Derrick Rose

(Photo via DI Radiocast)

Serious injuries in sports can be devastating. Just ask Derrick Rose. After enduring an injury-plagued season that ended with an ACL tear in the first round of the playoffs, the MVP point guard had to watch his team lose in six games to the eighth-seeded 76ers and spend the next five months working to return to the court.

Injuries like Rose's ACL tear lead players down a long road filled with rehab and mental obstacles. Although advancements in surgery and rehab allow players to return faster than ever, many players are never the same after a devastating injury. While we anxiously await Rose's return to see how the perennial All-Star bounces back, we take a look at recent big-name athletes who've come back from major injury.

The Good

Amaré Stoudemire

Surgery: Microfracture Knee Surgery (2005)

Heading into the 2005-2006 season, Amare Stoudemire (then a member of the Phoenix Suns) was thriving in Mike D'Antoni's pick-and-roll offense. He was scoring 26 points per game, while pulling down almost 10 rebounds. Sadly, Stoudemire's growth was stunted due to microfracture surgery on his knee, limiting the All-Star to just three games all of the '05-'06 season.

Not only was Stoudemire ready for the start of the 2006-2007 season after an intense rehab, but he also found his game on the court right where he left it. Playing in all 82 games that season, he averaged 20.4 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. The following season (2007-2008), he pushed his scoring average back up to 25.2 points per game, while blocking two shots per game.

Amare Stoudemire

(Photo via Zimbio)

Carson Palmer

Surgery: Reconstructive Knee Surgery (2006)

For much of the 2005 NFL season, Carson Palmer, then quarterback of the Cincinnati Bengals, was humming along. He threw 32 touchdowns during the regular season, tops in the league. He also led the Bengals to an 11-5 record, good enough to win the AFC North and secure a playoff spot for the Bengals for the first time in fifteen years. But Palmer's dream season came to a disturbing end during a first-round playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. On the Bengals' first offensive play, Palmer's leg was crushed mid-throw. Not only did he tear his ACL and MCL, he also suffered major damage to cartilage and dislocated his knee cap. His injury was labeled "career-ending" by his surgeon.

But the football gods smiled down on Palmer, and he was somehow ready to go for the 2006 pre-season. That season, the USC graduate threw for 4,035 yards and 28 touchdowns. Although the Bengals did not experience anywhere near the same success as they did before his surgery, Palmer continued to impress statistically before being traded to Oakland in 2011.

Carson Palmer

(Photo via Bleacher Report)

Stephen Strasburg

Surgery: Tommy John Surgery (2010)

Strasburg waltzed into the Big Leagues in 2010 with a 100-mph fastball and a devastating curveball, and hitters didn't have a clue about what to do with him. Through 12 starts as a rookie for the Washington Nationals, Strasburg compiled a 5-3 record with an eye-popping 1.50 ERA. Then, after feeling some pain in his wrist during a game against the Phillies in August of 2010, the fireballer was told he would need Tommy John surgery. Although Tommy John is not the career-ending surgery it used to be, Strasburg's lengthy rehab allowed him to appear in only five games towards the end of the 2011 season. Back completely healthy in 2012, he returned to form, posting a 15-6 record and a 3.16 ERA while striking out 197 batters—before getting shut down prior to the end of the season to preserve his arm.

Stephen Strasburg

(Photo via Cleveland, Sports, Etc.)

Tom Brady

Surgery: Knee (2008)

Just 7:33 into the first game of the Patriots' 2008 season, quarterback Tom Brady had his knee K.O.'d by Kansas City Chiefs safety Bernard Pollard. Tearing both his ACL and MCL, Brady missed the entire 2008 season. He then returned the following season as if he had never been injured at all, throwing for 28 touchdowns and more than 4,000 yards, and eventually leading the Patriots back to the Super Bowl in 2011.

Tom Brady

(Photo via Digital Group)

Rick Ankiel

Surgery: Tommy John (2002)

The tale of Rick Ankiel is a strange one. Beginning his career as a pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999, Ankiel appeared to be on his way to becoming a No. 1 starter. In 2000, his first full season in the Majors, he went 11-7 with an ERA of 3.50, helping the Cardinals advance all the way to the NLDS. He came in second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. But something unthinkable happened to Ankiel during that NLDS: He could no longer throw strikes. He floundered in Game 1, and then was pulled in the first inning of his next start, Game 1 of the NLCS, after five of his first 20 pitches flew past the catcher.

Ankiel was sent down to the minors where his pitching struggles continued. In 2003, he learned that he would need Tommy John surgery. When he recovered, he decided he would return to the majors as a hitter.

In 2007, Ankiel hit .285 and mashed 11 home runs in just 37 games for the Cardinals. Although his batting stats have never been eye-popping, his recovery from Tommy John surgery and his success at a totally different position are truly remarkable feats.

Rick Ankiel

(Photo via USA Today)

The Bad

Greg Oden

Surgeries: Microfracture (2007), Fractured Patella Repair (2009), Microfracture (2010)

Perusing Greg Oden's injury history is like reading a depressing novel that never ends. Drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2007, the big fella had surgery on his right knee in September, causing him to miss his entire rookie year. The next season, Oden avoided major surgery, but nagging injuries forced him to miss 22 games. He was then limited to just 21 games during the 2008-2009 season, after surgery to repair a fractured left patella. He then had to have microfracture surgery on his knee for the second time, ending his 2010-2011 season before it began. He has not seen the court since. For his career, Oden has played in just 82 games (or exactly one full NBA season), averaging 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

Greg Oden

Ryan Howard

Surgery: Torn Achilles Repair (2011)

Ryan Howard, stud slugger for the Philadelphia Phillies, tore his Achilles in one of the worst ways possible. Howard was the final out during the Phillies 1-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 5 of their NLDS matchup last season, grounding out to end the game. But as the Cardinals rushed the field to celebrate their trip to the World Series, Howard collapsed to the ground on his way to first base. The resulting torn Achilles kept the All-Star out until July 6 of this year, and his stats upon returning have not been pretty. Howard is batting .225 as the season winds down (and just .163 against lefties, which was once his strong suit). Whether Howard can return to his fearsome former form is still to be seen, but his first season after surgery is not a good sign.

Ryan Howard

(Photo via R&G Are Dead)

Penny Hardaway

Surgeries: Six knee surgeries over his career

Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway was a rising star in Orlando. After his rookie season (in which he  averaged 16 points per game), Hardaway scored more than 20 points per game for three straight seasons, one of which resulted in an NBA Finals appearance. Then, things began to unravel. First, All-Star teammate Shaquille O'Neal left for the L.A. Lakers before the 1996-1997 season. Although the Magic would make the playoffs with Penny leading the way, O'Neal's exit was a sign of things to come. Hardaway then severely injured his left knee, leading to the first of six surgeries that would completely rob him of the quickness that turned him into one of the best guards in the league.

After the 1996-1997 season, Hardway never averaged close to 20 points per game again, even dipping down into the  single digits during the 2003-2004 season. Constantly hampered by injuries, he would never be the same player he was during his first four stellar years in Orlando.

Penny Hardaway

(Photo via Sole Collector)

Éric Gagné

Surgery: Tommy John (1997), Tommy John (2005), Elbow (2006), Back (2006)

One of just a handful of pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery twice, Eric Gangé was once the most feared closer in all of baseball. For three straight seasons, the native Canadian was virtually unhittable. He posted 52 saves in 2002, an obscene 55 saves in 2003 and 45 in 2004. During his 55-save year, his ERA hovered at 1.20.

But in 2005, Gagné was forced to undergo his second Tommy John surgery, prematurely ending his season in June. After elbow surgery during spring training the next season, he was finally back on the mound in June of 2006. But not even a month later, Gagné underwent season-ending back surgery.

In 2007, Gagné signed with the Texas Rangers, and it appeared that he was on his way to becoming the dominant closer he once was. In 34 appearances with the Rangers, he recorded 16 saves with an ERA of 2.16. But minor injuries plagued Gagné once again, and he was traded to the Boston Red Sox, where his career began to derail. Gagné posted a whopping 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances with the Sox in his new role as a setup man. The next season, he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers, where he would go on to have the worst year of his career, saving just 10 games in 17 attempts while posting a 5.44 ERA. Gagné would eventually announce his retirement in 2010.

Eric Gagne

(Photo via MLB Reports)

Shaun Livingston

Surgery: Knee (2007)

Livingston was enjoying a breakout year with the Los Angeles Clippers during the 2006-2007 season (just his third in the league), averaging 9.3 points and 5 assists per game, when he suffered a horrendous knee injury driving for a layup in late February of 2007. In essence, Livingston destroyed his entire knee, tearing his ACL and PCL and dislocating his patella and tibia-femoral joint.

Livingston was able to come back a year later, but he appeared in just four games for the Miami Heat. He did average 9.2 points per game for the Washington Wizards in the 2009-2010 season, but he was never really the same player after his major surgery, and he now largely plays minimal minutes off the bench. Livingston will suit up for his sixth team this October when he dons a Houston Rockets jersey.

Shaun Livingston

(Photo via Clippers.TopBuzz)


Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock

Topics: NEWS | INJURY | SURGERY | TOMMY JOHN