Osteochondral defect? UConn’s Paige Bueckers’ injury, recovery timeline explained by doctors

Paige Bueckers’ offseason is grinding to a halt.

The UConn star is on the mend following surgery on her right ankle. The procedure, which took place Friday, is expected to keep her off the court for the next few months. That means Bueckers, the reigning national player of the year, will merely be a spectator when workouts resume on campus in June.

But two orthopedic surgeons who specialize in ankles told Hearst Connecticut Media that Bueckers’ injury — as described by UConn — is relatively common and the prognosis for recovery is good. Bueckers had what medical professionals call an osteochondral defect, which is commonly described as damage to both cartilage and bone. This condition is often associated with a single traumatic event such as an ankle sprain.

“When you sprain your ankle, you tear the ligaments,” said John Reach, orthopedic surgeon at the Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute. “When that happens, your bone will sort of slide out on the other bone; the bottom bone of the ankle will slide out. What it does then will sort of take a little chunk of itself out. That’s called an osteochondral lesion. What I tell patients is it’s like a little pothole in the joint.”

Bueckers sprained her ankle in UConn’s Jan. 21 win at Tennessee, but the school said her issue was pre-existing. Though she missed the next game against Georgetown, Bueckers appeared in every other contest through the Final Four, which doctors say suggests her surgery was more preventative than anything.

The 5-foot-11 guard averaged 20 points, 5.8 assists and 2.2 steals, leading the Huskies to their 13th consecutive Final Four.

“The fact that they got her back on the court and she played for the duration of the season, that’s a clear indicator they were doing this more as a long-term benefit,” said Adam Ferguson, also an orthopedic surgeon with Connecticut Orthopaedic Institute.

One common surgical procedure to treat an osteochondral defect, which both doctors agreed is relatively common, is microfracture. In this case, small holes are drilled in the surface of the joint, stimulating a healing response. UConn did not specify what type of procedure Bueckers underwent.

Customarily, it takes about eight weeks of light rehab post-surgery to allow an osteochondral defect to heal before more strenuous stretching and strengthening exercises can begin. Ordinarily, an athlete is allowed to resume practice within three to six months, though it varies by individual. UConn said Bueckers should be ready for preseason activities in September, roughly four months from today.

Without knowing the specifics of her surgery, Ferguson suspects Bueckers will be back sooner than later.

“Younger people do better, they tend to get back quicker,” he said. “My suspicion is she’ll be back on it the Fourth of July. That’ll give her a couple of months to get back and get going again.”

And the prognosis is generally bright.

“The long-term and short-term projection,” he said, “is for her to play next season and hopefully play many, many years down the road.”

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour