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Is The NBA Schedule To Blame For This Weekend’s Uptick In Exploding ACLs?

We were worried this would happen: Knees exploding before our very eyes. Ankles and backs and ligaments breaking down as we turned the corner into May. Bodies — young bodies, some of which are very important to the NBA’s future — lying in heaps and screaming on the parquet.

This was the worst case scenario when the league unveiled its lockout-shortened schedule, playing more games in less time than maybe is healthy for its players. But is the shortened season – 66 games in four months, then by one day off before the playoffs — really to blame for the giant, hobbled frames that are starting to pile up?

The players think it is, but a doctor thinks it’s not.

First, lets look at who’s out. On TNT last night, Chris Webber noted that you could make an All-Star team from all of the notable NBA injuries. Here’s what that All-Star team would look like.

- Derrick Rose (torn left ACL on Saturday)

- Iman Shumpert (torn left ACL on Staurday)

- Dwight Howard (season-ending back surgery on April 21st)

- Al Horford (mid-season pectoral injury, will miss first round)

- Andrew Bogut (no basketball for three months after ankle surgery)

- Stephen Curry (shut down in early April because of an ankle injury)

- And, sure, why not: we’ll throw Jeremy Lin in there (knee surgery has him out, at least for the immediate future)

Rose’s injury hurt the most, both for the Bulls and the league. He’s a player whose game is based off his explosive first step, which is something you lose (and sometimes never get back) when you blow out your knee. Was the NBA’s effort to fit more games into a tighter window the cause for all of these devastating injuries, including one that could harm the league’s future?

Again, the players think so. Here’s what some of them said in the wake of the Rose and Shumpert ACL tears.

“Yeah, probably,” Chicago’s Joakim Noah said. “Probably.”
Boston center Jermaine O’Neal, whose season ended early after wrist surgery, wrote on his Twitter page that it was a “clear sign” of fatigued bodies from a condensed season, writing “2 torn acl injuries to key players!”
“This has been a compressed season, a lot more games, a lot less practice time, a lot less recovery time,” Knicks guard Baron Davis said.

Keep in mind: that’s coming from players, one of whom just watched his teammate go down, and another who was injured himself. They’re pissed, because, in their minds, the reigning MVP may never be the same for the sake of two more games per month.

Here’s what an actual surgeon had to say:

“There is no evidence that wear and tear, or that kind of issue, playing too much, really has any correlation with ACL injuries in any sport that we’ve ever studied,” Dr. David Altchek from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York said Sunday.

Altcheck also noted that a fatigued body may be less likely to blow out a knee, because it lacks the explosiveness necessary to tear ligaments. In fact, non-contact ACL tears — the type that Rose suffered — happen most to the “strongest and healthiest” athletes. Meaning: the schedule wasn’t to blame. But Derrick Rose’s speed might have been.

Exploding your knee is perhaps the most unfair, non-life-threatening injury on the planet. It sometimes occurs because of obvious force (a football player being hit in the side of the knee) and sometimes because of something freakish (a basketball player planting). Either way, the end result is devastating, and leaves you wanting to come up with a reason for something that occurred without reason.

[NBA schedule probably not to blame for Rose injury] AP, image via @cjzero.

  • http://twitter.com/paoligarcy Paolina Garcia

    Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.

    But I think a FEAR of injuries killed this sport a long time ago.
    I went to watch a NBA game and the players looked like they were afraid to play the game!

    I think the fact that if they are multi-million dollar machines makes their agents pressure them not to get injured so they don’t play too hard.

    Linsanity was basically the excitement generated by one player overplaying himself in a world of basketball where most of the players underperform out of fear of injury. I guess it was prophetic though, since I predicted Lin would likely get injured and in the future play more carefully like the rest of them.

    I think the salaries are a bad thing and that amateurs like Lin tend to be more entertaining.

    Plus the two biggest things holding back the black community tend to be the war on drugs and a hope of sports/rap careers that basically give them two very unproductive ways to earn a ton of money and it makes going to college look stupid from an inner city point of view. We could end that overnight by limiting salaries for players and ending the drug war (which would both end the huge imprisonment rate of blacks as well as take away the “drug peddler” career path as corporations take over it like alcohol).

    A game of sports where the players are practically afraid to play for fear of the effect injury has on their bloated salaries is just a silly waste. I find college players to be more impressive ironically and they don’t earn a penny per game.

  • Paul Schied

    The doctor you quote is a paid consultant of the NBA. Do some research. Any objective doctor will tell you that weakened or fatigued muscles lead to joint injuries. In Rose’s case, he suffered stress induced injuries from the insane schedule and his insane style of play, those injuries caused him to sustain other stress induced injuries since he was playing hurt, and the end result was him suffering the torn ACL.

    If you’ve ever had back pain after limping around with an injured leg you know how this happens. Your body compensates to take pressure off the existing injury, putting additional pressure on other joints and leading to additional injuries.

  • Ken Hatch

    Let me enlighten the surgeon about the realities of athletics and injuries.  I have blown the ACL in my right knee, which was rebuilt with a donor organ ACL, and I have torn my MCL in my left knee, and successfully rehabilitated it to a high degree of athletic activity (amateur competitive rock climbing) without surgery.

    The issue is not with the tissue of the ACL when the injury occurs, he is right about that.  What he is ether oblivious to or in denial of is the fact that the kinds of explosive moves athletes are performing are strenuous enough that the athletes conditioning and control are critical to avoid injury.  If the athlete cannot control his core muscles and keep the trajectory of his center of gravity within learned constraints he or she will be much more likely to injure themselves.  This control of ones center of gravity through core muscle groups is lost when the body is tired and muscles less able to deal with weight and inertia.  It then spills over into the legs trying to ‘catch up’ and correct whatever breakdowns in CG control the core muscles are creating.  Lower back and Knee injuries result.

    His notion that tired players will hurt themselves less does not take into account any reality.  Pride, motivation, dreams and desires, are more then enough motivation to reach way to far and try way to hard.  People die doing this, seriously, and in with all respect to the fallen.  People run themselves to death, play themselves TO DEATH.

    You roll your ankle when you cant quick step out of it.  You blow your knee when your tired muscles cant control the plant or pivot correctly.  When your feeling fresh and moving right your muscles are locked in and protecting you, and when your not, their not.

    I lived for 10 years before having the reconstruction on my right knee without an ACL and still surfed and skateboarded and mountain biked until it just wasn’t a functional knee anymore.  One of the initial injuries and every subsequent re-injury was due to not enough conditioning for the situation.  Body to heavy for tired or weak muscles to keep legs aligned properly to absorb the impact.  And then just pain.

    There are times when being fresh and rested just doesn’t matter.  My initial ACL destruction was snowboarding and involved lots of air and a bad ice rock hard landing zone.  But the injuries we have seen recently, Baron Davis and Derrick Rose, both were to my experienced eyes directly related to overall conditioning and specifically they were failures of the legs muscles to keep proper alignment during strenuous loading or torquing.

    Barons initiated through his just trying to do something his body was incapable of doing.  I watched it a few times, with some difficulty given I know how it feels.  He tries to plant his right foot with the knee almost locked, which is to me a clear sign of his lacking the conditioning for the moment.  The inertia his muscles built up was to much load for his muscles to change the direction of, when his mind asked them too, and the knees connective supporting structure took the load in a way it wasn’t able to deal with.  Yes the ACL was fine just before this happened, no the season had no effect on that ACL before this happened, and that is beside the point because the ACL didn’t hurt itself, it was inertia and mass uncontrolled by muscles that for whatever reason lacked the conditioning for the moment.

    This doctor is being deceivingly literate in his response.  He speaks of the ACL as if it is in a dish in his lab, being feed nutrients and tested very clinically.  He ignores what caused the injuries.   The muscles that must deal with the inertia of a moving body changing direction absolutely do get tired, and these muscles are the initiator, the breaks that suddenly gave out, in the disastrous wreck of ACL injuries we are seeing.

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