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Forbes: Another Knee Surgery For Russell Westbrook: Should The Thunder Be Worried?

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Russell Westbrook underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Wednesday, September 12th due to stiffness and inflammation in the knee that occurred while getting ready for training camp. The team, Westbrook, and his representation determined “the best course of action was the proactive procedure,” the Thunder said in a release. Westbrook viewed this knee arthroscopy (“scope’) as a pre-emptive, clean-up procedure rather than potentially having issues creep up during the season. This surgery will force him to miss the entire preseason and possibly a few regular-season games.
Although an arthroscopic clean-up surgery is not as drastic or invasive as an ACL reconstruction, keep in mind that Westbrook has had four previous right knee operations. After a collision with Patrick Beverley in Game 2 of the 2013 playoffs that resulted in a meniscus tear, Westbrook underwent three surgeries on the knee over 9 months. It has been more than four years since the last surgery, with Westbrook recovering to appear in 308 of a possible 328 regular-season games since the start of the 2014-15 season and win an MVP.
Taking Westbrook’s knee history into account, this surgery prior to preseason was probably a smart move. Considering that he was already experiencing discomfort during training camp and his knees would see a significant amount of stress during the regular season, there is a good chance that he would have required an operation later in the season. Doing it now, before the season starts, will hopefully limit the amount of time he misses. If this was delayed until the pain worsened, the timing may not have been as fortuitous. For example, if symptoms worsened toward the end of the season, surgery at that point could mean being out for the playoffs.
Although it hasn’t yet been specified, this arthroscopic procedure most likely involved removing loose or fraying cartilage. Given Westbrook’s previous surgeries, it is likely that he has already had some cartilage damage. The analogy I use with patients is to Imagine paint chipping off a wall. Once it begins, it is easier for more paint to come off. To prevent the situation from worsening, it is best to remove the paint chips (debridement) and smooth over the entire wall to prevent further damage from occurring. The same principles apply to an arthroscopic cleanup of cartilage.
While the timing is not ideal with Thunder training camp opening on Sept. 25, as mentioned above, better now than in April. Westbrook will be re-evaluated in four weeks. The key to recovery after a surgery of this type is getting the swelling out of the knee as quickly as possible so that the player can regain their quadriceps strength. Once their strength returns, they can resume normal basketball activities and gradually build back up into game shape. This typically takes about 4 to 6 weeks.

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