Russell Westbrook injury: Q&A with NBA Head Team Physician

Thunderous Intentions—January 20, 2014

When we found out that Russell Westbrook was going to need a third surgery on his right knee in late December, every Thunder fan began to worry.

No matter how minor the procedure may be, three surgeries couldn’t be a good thing and it was definitely cause for concern.

To help shed some light on Westbrook’s situation, we at Thunderous Intentions were able to interview Dr. Riley J. Williams, Head Team Physician of the Brooklyn Nets and NY Red Bulls, and Orthopedic Surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery.

Thunderous Intentions: What are some other NBA players in the past who have suffered the same type of knee injury that Russell Westbrook did? How did they recover?

Dr. Williams: Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Eric Bledsoe, Jeremy Lin, Chase Budinger and J.R. Smith all had meniscal surgeries in the recent past. These surgeries typically involve removing a small flap or portion of the meniscus that is torn. Unlike many parts of the body, the meniscus has a very poor blood supply. As a result, we surgeons are unable to “fix” or sew most meniscus problems. When the tear is near the edge or periphery of the meniscus, we can sometimes use suturing to fix a meniscus injury. However it is important to note that meniscus repairs have an expected healing rate of about 50-60% (just over half). This means that just under half the time, a meniscus repair procedure does not work. Still, it is worth trying to save the meniscus whenever possible because removing meniscus tissue can result in knee degeneration over the long-term.

Each of these players is in different stages of recovery. Derrick Rose and Eric Bledsoe are recently injured and are still in rehab. Jeremy Lin, Blake Griffin, and J.R. Smith were able to return to play without issue. Chase Budinger had a repair of the meniscus (like Westbrook) which did not hold. He has another surgery before this season and seems to be working his way back into shape for a return to play this season.

TI: When everyone hears the words “knee injury” they get scared. But obviously there are different levels of knee injuries and surgeries. Where does partially tearing your right meniscus rank in terms of severity of knee injuries that NBA players often suffer?

Dr.: Meniscus tears are very common in the NBA. Due to the nature of the game, player’s knees are subjected to high velocity stops and starts. This puts tremendous pressure on the menisci which act as natural shock absorbers to the healthy knee. Certainly all knee injuries could be described as serious, but a torn meniscus is typically an injury from which most Orthopedic Surgeons would expect a full recovery. There are issues with these knees over the mid to long term, but isolated meniscus tears do typically do well. Meniscal injuries are not considered as serious as say tears to the ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) or damage to the articular cartilage of the knee.

Read the full story at thunderousintentions.com.

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