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Common Knee Injuries in Basketball

With the NBA All Star game and March Madness coming up, it’s time to start talking about basketball injuries. What happens when your favorite players get injured, and what does it take to get them back on the court? In this series of blog posts, I’ll discuss common basketball injuries and how they are treated, using some well-known basketball players as examples.

First up, let’s discuss knee injuries, which are very common among basketball players. Most notably, Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks and the NBA All Star roster has recently indicated that knee soreness from an undisclosed injury will likely require surgery in the future. However, he still plans to play as long as he can.

Sprains and Strains

Knee sprains and strains are common in all sports, not just basketball. A sprain occurs when a ligament in the knee is overstretched. Ligaments are fibrous bands of connective tissue that join the bones together. In the case of a severe injury, the ligament may tear. Knee sprains are caused by trauma to the knee, whether direct or indirect, that causes the ligament to stretch too far.

Strains differ from sprains in that a tendon is injured, rather than a ligament. Tendons are the fibrous cords of tissue that attach your muscles to your bones. Knee strains are often the result of overuse, but can occur as the result of an acute injury as well. Dwight Howard of the Houston rockets has suffered knee problems this season, including a knee strain, and will be out for an indefinite period of time while he heals.

Treatment: Most sprains and strains can be treated with the RICE method: Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. Physical therapy can aid in the healing process as well. More severe sprains and strains can take longer to heal and may require surgery.

Patellar Tendonitis (aka “Jumper’s Knee”)

The patellar tendon attaches your patella, or kneecap, to your shinbone. This tendon aids in jumping, kicking, and running. When the patellar tendon becomes inflamed, it is called patellar tendonitis. Patellar tendonitis often occurs in athletes who have to jump frequently, which is why it is a very common condition among basketball players. It is often referred to as “jumper’s knee.”

Treatment: Patellar tendonitis rarely requires surgery. It can often be treated with a combination of anti-inflammatory medications and exercises. Corticosteroid or platelet-rich plasma injections may be used as well.

Meniscal Tears

The meniscus is a tough, rubbery piece of cartilage located between your thighbone and shinbone. It acts as a shock absorber in the knee. Basketball players may tear the meniscus if the knee twists awkwardly during play. Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder suffered a meniscal tear last season and had to miss several games to have surgery.

Treatment: Small, minor meniscal tears may be treated with the RICE method and anti-inflammatory medications. In other cases, surgery may be needed to correct the tear. Repairs to meniscal tears are generally done using arthroscopy, a minimally invasive procedure that allows for a quicker recovery time. This is the type of surgery Russell Westbrook underwent to repair his torn meniscus.

Ligament Tears

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and the posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) form an “X” shape within the knee and control the knee’s back and forth motion. ACL tears are generally more common than PCL tears. The ACL may tear if a basketball player stops suddenly, lands incorrectly from a jump, or changes direction quickly. The PCL can tear if there is a direct blow to the knee or if the knee is twisted or hyperextended.

Treatment: Ligament tears will not heal without surgery. A torn ligament often needs to be rebuilt with a tissue graft because the ligament will not heal properly if it is merely sewn back together. the surgery can often be done arthroscopically, but it can take some time for the ligament to completely heal.

Stay tuned in for the upcoming NBA All Star Game & March Madness! We will be writing about the latest news & injuries in basketball — along with ways to stay healthy on the court.

Brought to you by @GleiberMD of #SpineTipoftheDay & #HealthHabits.