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The Baseline: Down in frequency, ACL injury numbers were never abnormal to start

Sporting News—February 13, 2014

Remember the mild panic that took hold in the NBA over the last year or so, the hand-wringing and nail-biting over the sudden rise of ACL injuries around the league? Well, take a deep breath. The spike is gone and, according to doctors in the field, there was never really any spike to begin with.

“It was an overreaction,” said Dr. David Altchek, an orthopedic surgeon at Hospital for Special Surgery who is also the medical director for the New York Mets and a medical consultant for the NBA. “There was no flood of ACL injuries. You get two or three in a row, and it looks like a trend, and really, it was just a blip. There is no trend, there is no panic. There’s no anything. If they were lower-profile players, we might not put anything together.”

Altchek pointed to the plight of Derrick Rose as the main source of concern about ACLs—not only did Rose, the 2010 MVP, tear his ACL in May 2012, but the drama around whether he should return or take a full year off kept the injury in the public consciousness. Other ACL tears around the same time, including those suffered by the Knicks' Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert in the same playoff series, compounded the perception that the league was undergoing a rash of knee problems.

A look at the NBA’s recent history of ACL tears shows that though 11 such injuries in two years is a lot, it is not that far outside the norm. In ’02-’03, there were six ACL tears, and in two other seasons there were five.

Can ACL injuries be prevented in the NBA?

“There is a Darwinian element to it,” Altchek said. “If there are anatomic factors that predispose you to these kinds of injuries, you have probably had those injuries before you got to the NBA. You’ve already been weeded out.

"That’s one of the horrible things about any big sport that no one wants to talk about—you can have talent, but if your body does not have what it takes, you’re going to get injured and you’re not going to make it in the first place.”


Whatever the reason, things are back to normal when it comes to ACL injuries in the NBA. And they were never that abnormal to begin with.

“Rose elevated the whole profile and kept it elevated because he was out so long, then his other knee got injured,” Altchek said. “If it was journeyman type players, no one would notice. There is definitely no trend of increased ACL injuries that anyone should be worried about, and there never was.”

This story originally appeared at sportingnews.com.


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