Thirty days after hip surgery, Wilson Chandler was finally able to stand on his own two feet.
The simple act of walking without crutches was a liberating milestone in a painstaking recovery for the Denver Nuggets forward.
“Feels like starting over,” he said. “Like a baby.”
Chandler, 25, went in for surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip on April 30. Doctors also shaved down the bone to relieve an impingement that was causing groin pain. While the procedure itself was relatively minor, the recovery process takes several months.
“The hips are the center point where you absorb your shock forces,” Nuggets assistant athletic trainer Dan Shimensky said. “Your hips and your lower back, you can’t avoid using them.”
Shimensky has been working with Chandler for 90 minutes to 2 hours a day five days a week doing rehabilitation in the training room, on the stationary bike and in the therapy pool. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Hess and his assistant Felipe Eichenberger also spend about an hour per day with Chandler in the weight room.
At home, Chandler uses a machine called Game Ready to apply a cold-water compress to his hip. He has to do 30 minutes on and 30 minutes off six times a day.
“It’s tough,” he said of the overall process. “It’s repetitive. A lot of little things over and over, but it’s something I have to do. I’ve got to make sure all the muscles are strong before I can start running and get back to jumping.”
Patience and perseverance will be words to live by as Chandler continues his rehab work. He hopes to be beginning running sometime in July and remains on target to return to the court when the Nuggets open training camp sometime in late September.
“We have time working for us,” Shimensky said. “It’s the offseason, so we’re not using this time to rush through anything. And Wil’s been great. You can tell he’s fully focused because he has a goal of coming back stronger than ever.”
The Nuggets certainly have big plans for Chandler; who originally was acquired as part of the 13-player trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves and New York Knicks on Feb. 22, 2011. Chandler spent much of the 2011-12 season playing in China before signing a new five-year contract with Denver on March 18.
Though somewhat rusty, Chandler played well in seven games with the Nuggets before experiencing groin pain that sidelined him for two weeks. The pain resurfaced upon his return, and an MRI revealed the labral tear.
“At first I didn’t know it was my hip. I thought it was my groin,” Chandler said. “They explained to me that my bone wasn’t properly smooth. Every time I moved my hip, it was pinching my labrum and sending a shock to my groin.”
With major mobility restrictions since the surgery, Chandler has spent countless hours doing his rehab work, watching movies and playing games on his X-Box. He also trades frequent text messages with Nuggets vice president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri.
“I talk to Masai a lot,” Chandler said. “We text back and forth. Just being here for the summer, I see him a lot. I’m also pretty comfortable when I see (team president) Josh (Kroenke). They make me feel more comfortable and I can just focus on getting healthy.”
When Chandler returns, he will add defense and scoring to an already formidable lineup. He averaged 10.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists in the seven games before his injury. In 2010-11, he averaged career highs of 16.4 points and 5.9 rebounds while making a career-best 112 three-pointers.
Based on his first month of rehab, the Nuggets have every reason to believe Chandler can be even better when he gets healthy.
“With any guy who is hurt and rehabbing, you see a progression and then they plateau and they get impatient because they’re not seeing those progression gains as quickly as they were early on,” Shimensky said. “If I had to guess, I don’t see that happening with Wil. I don’t think he will be affected in a negative way.”