Science Class: An Expert Tells Us About KG’s Knee
Posted by Zach Lowe on Feb 21, 2009
A “posterior knee strain.” It sounded suspicious to paranoid/pessimistic Celtics fans (like me), and I wanted more details about what exactly is wrong with KG and when (if?) we can expect him back at 100 percent. So I called Donald Rose, an orthopedic surgeon who is one of those people with so many titles and honors to his name it would take this entire post to list them all. He’s a professor at NYU, the go-to orthopedic surgeon for several world-class dance troupes, including Cirque du Soleil, and he served as the Philadelphia 76ers surgeon for a season in the mid-1980s as part of a fellowship. He’s also a multiple-time national champion rower. Feel bad about yourself yet?
Dr. Rose was kind enough to describe KG’s injury and what we can expect in terms of recovery. Here’s a transcript (slightly edited) of our conversation.
Celtics Hub: There’s a feeling out there that “posterior muscle strain” is not a real injury, but just something that sports teams say to placate the media until they want to release the real information. So: Is this a real injury? And what exactly is it?
Dr. Rose: Yes, it’s a real injury. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, but a strain is a muscle or tendon injury. You can strain an Achilles tendon, for instance, but you can’t sprain it.
Now, saying it’s a muscle strain in the back of the knee is a little vague. There are a lot of muscles that run behind the knee. There’s the hamstring muscle, for instance, but the far more common injury is a strain of the calf muscle–which starts above the knee and runs to the achilles tendon. About 95 percent of the time, the strain will be in the part of the calf muscle that runs along the inside of the leg–the gastrocnemius. (Ed note: see picture).
CH: How does someone strain that muscle?
DR: It’s a classic injury in leapers and jumpers, and also in tennis and squash players. People sometimes refer to it as “tennis leg.” What happens is that when someone is landing or taking off, their muscles are contracting and stretching at the same time. Those are two opposing forces, unfortunately. One force pulls one way and the other pulls the other way.
CH: The team is saying KG will be back in two or three weeks. Is that a reasonable recovery time?
DR: It really depends on how badly it’s injured. A very mild strain takes two or three weeks to heal. If it’s a moderate strain, it could be four weeks, and if it’s severe, it could take up to six weeks.
If you come back too soon, you run the risk of aggravating the injury and starting from ground zero.
After the jump, the doc weighs in on Charles Barkley and KG’s prognosis.
CH: Does this kind of injury ever require surgery?
DR: No, there’s no surgery that would ever be contemplated. That’s for sure. The only invasive procedure that has reared its head lately involves platelet rich plasma, where doctors take your own blood, take out one component and inject it into the injured area–mostly for elbow, muscle or ligament strains. (Ed note: Dr. Rose referred us to this New York Times story about how Troy Polamalu and Hines Ward used this procedure during the NFL playoffs). It results in faster healing, but it’s very investigational at this time.
CH: What will KG be doing in the next couple of weeks?
DR: He’ll be working on stretching exercises, strengthening exercises, and using ultrasound. It’s something that progresses on a day-to-day basis. You have to see how soon he can jump normally, if he can sustain the force he’s used to.
CH: And with rest, is this something you can come back from and be 100 percent, or does it always linger?
DR: Absolutely, he can come back 100 percent. There are some muscle strains that linger a long, long time, but those usually involve the hamstring–and usually the portion that is up higher in the thigh, not behind the knee. They say you never get cured of a hamstring injury. But for calf strains behind the knee–those have the potential for a full recovery.
CH: The team said the injury had been bothering Garnett for a couple of weeks. Is that typical?
DR: Yes. You can have a very mild muscle strain, and then it can be exacerbated by putting too much force on it. A little injury becomes bigger.
CH: Last thing. You mentioned you spent some time with the Sixers in the mid-1980s. Any good Barkley anecdotes?
DR: (Laughing). The one thing I will say is this: I examined his back once, and it was a very impressive back, even for an athlete–and I’ve been around a lot of athletes. They called him the Round Mound of Rebound, and his back was just huge. I remember asking about weight lifting, and he said he had never lifted weights at all until either very late in college or when he first got to the pros. That’s the only anecdote. I have a very high respect for his work ethic. Regardless of what was going on in the game he gave his all when he was on the court.