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With less than 15 seconds remaining in Friday night’s game, New Orleans Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon after attempting to rebound his own missed free throw. After landing hard on his left leg, Cousins hopped a few times on his right foot and then collapsed to the court, unable to put pressure on his left foot again. Cousins underwent surgery to repair the tendon and will miss the remainder of the season.
Clearly, this is a devastating injury to Cousins, who was having another All-Star season, and a big loss to the Pelicans, a potential playoff team. Most concerning to me is how effective Cousins will be when he returns.
Surgically, Achilles tendon tears are relatively easy to repair. Usually, a small incision is made over the back of the ankle, and the torn tendon ends are sutured together. The real issue for patients is recovery. After surgery, the athlete will undergo a period of immobilization and then regain ankle range of motion and leg strength via physical therapy. Many athletes must undergo physical therapy for a year or more before the leg recovers enough to compete.
Although the healing rates for surgery are high, it is still very difficult for athletes to fully recover their explosive power. This becomes a huge issue for basketball players.
Several high-profile players, including Kobe Bryant and Patrick Ewing, have torn their Achilles tendons, and while they returned to play in the NBA, they were not the same players they were before the injury. One thing Cousins has going for him is that he is younger than most who suffer this injury, which may help his recovery.
Hopefully, Cousins will be back next season in All-Star form, but if the past is prologue, we should be guardedly optimistic!