Derrick Rose may be out for the season a third straight year, and once again due to a knee injury. His absence is a blow for Bulls fans: The point guard seemed to have gotten over his bout of bad health, playing 19 straight games and scoring 30 points in an important match-up against LeBron James and the Cavaliers before the All-Star Break. Rose will now undergo another surgery for a torn meniscus, similar to the surgery he had when he tore it in 2013. This is his third knee hit in as many years, and his last injury cut his 2013-2014 season short after just 10 games. Which all begs the question: How can the NBA's youngest MVP in history avoid being defined by his injuries?
If Rose wants a longer career and good long-term knee health, he won't rush back to the court so soon. Treatment for a torn meniscus can mean repairing it through surgery — a recovery time of about four to six months (which is what Rose had last time). Or it might mean trimming the torn cartilage, where recovery is as quick as four to eight weeks. The latter, however, could lead to more problems, since the meniscus acts as a shock-absorber for hits to your knees, making it important to keep it intact.
"In Derrick Rose's case, surgery is definitely the option to get him back the quickest," says Dr. Peter Vezeridis, an orthopedic sports surgeon at the University of California Medical Center in Santa Monica. But if his sports career weren’t a factor, treatment might be very different. "If the injury happened at the very end of the season, physicians might say we'll go through physical therapy and see in a little bit," Vezeridis adds. "Most of the time though, we know they're trying to get back as soon as possible. That's why you see a lot of NFL and NBA players getting meniscus surgeries very quickly after they have the diagnosis of a tear."
But in Rose's case — as well as any recreational athlete suffering knee problems — physical therapy may be the true key: David Reavy, a physical therapist at React Physical Therapy, says it's important that Rose get to the root of changing how he's moving and balancing his body on the court, which should involve meticulous therapy.
"If you look back through [Rose's] history, he has reported a series of small injuries (low back pain, pulled groin, big toe injury, etc.), which were all harbingers of bigger injuries to come," Reavy says. "His symptoms have been addressed over and over, and new injuries continue to plague him. He needs someone to address of the cause of the chronic muscle imbalances that lead to his current injuries and prevent future injuries." Reavy says it's about helping athletes balance out their bodies to avoid future injuries, since one tear could lead to another down the road, as a torn meniscus often does (Heat star guard Dwayne Wade underwent several surgeries for removing his meniscus, only to regret it later). "You need to find a physical therapist who will help you change the way you use your body, take undue stress of the knee (and thereby the meniscus), and allow you to recruit your muscles effectively."
A quick surgery and rehab may be good for a pro player like Derrick Rose who wants to get back on the court. But for an everyday guy who does have the luxury of time to recover, physical therapy could be the best first step before considering surgery, Veziridis explains. "If we’re talking about people who don't rely on sports to make a living, you can try a trial of physical therapy, modifying your activity, and avoiding activities that pressure your knees." As for Rose, tear or not, the game must go on.