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NBA Injury Analysis: What Injuries Mean

Jeff Stotts

Jeff Stotts works as a Certified Athletic Trainer (MAT, ATC, PES, CES). He won the 2011 Best Fantasy Football Article in Print from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

At long last the NBA season has arrived. Teams enter the season with high expectations that can easily be derailed by a single injury. Fantasy owners face the same looming threat, but steps can be taken to insure you properly handle injuries when they occur and minimize their impact on your season.

To begin the season I thought I'd share some basic injury jargon that all fantasy owners should know. Understanding what the injury actually is could prevent you from prematurely casting a player aside.

Lets start with the verbiage surrounding sprains and strains. The difference between these two words may be just one letter, but the associated recovery time and nature of the injury itself is a bit more complicated. A sprain is an injury that occurs to a ligament, the connective tissue that connects bone to bone. A strain is an injury that occurs to either muscle or a tendon of the muscle. Both sprains and strains are graded based on the amount of damage to the effected structure. A Grade I injury is considered minor with partial or micro tearing of the ligament or tendon. A Grade II injury is commonly referred to has a partial tear as actual fibers that make up the structure are damaged. More severe injuries are classified as Grade III or IV and often result in a loss of function and mechanical stability. These injuries come with a substantially longer window of recovery and, depending on the location, may need to be repaired through surgery.

Lower Leg Strains

Strains can occur throughout the body but given the physical demands associated with basketball, lower leg strains are particularly common. Lower leg muscles that are often strained include the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and the groin. Each one of these muscle groups is responsible for controlling a specific motion at the hip and/or knee. They work in unison to accelerate and decelerate the leg during activity but also remain vulnerable to injury with the explosive movement and the sudden starts and stops a basketball player does every time he steps on the court.

Based on the rate of healing, these kinds of injuries can linger and often remain susceptible to aggravation and reinjury. A low-grade muscle strain can keep a player out a few games but it would be wise to not take these seemingly minor injuries lightly. Remember players, particularly veterans, that have suffered previous strains come with an increased inherent injury risk. Several players, including Chicago's Joakim Noah and Indiana's Danny Granger, are already dealing with these types of injuries. Noah's strained groin appears to have improved and the enigmatic center is preparing to be in the starting lineup for the opener against the Heat. On the other hand, Granger will be shut down for the next three weeks with a lingering calf strain. Last week I detailed the specifics on Granger's injury and I remain unsurprised with Indiana's conservative approach.

Ankle Sprains

The most common injury in sports is the ankle sprain. Often the result of forcibly pushing the ankle inward, ankle sprains can occur in a wide range of severity AND location. Severity is graded by the previously discussed scale. However location of the sprain is often key. The most common sprain is the lateral ankle sprain in which the ligaments on the outside of the foot are sprained. The three ligaments here support the foot during side-to-side motion and can easily be reinjured if left untreated or not given the appropriate time to heal.

The medial ankle sprain is not as common as the lateral ankle sprain. This type of injury occurs to the inside of the foot where the ligaments are arranged in a specific pattern to provide maximum support. When the ankle is forced outward in eversion, the strength of the ligament often works too well and a small piece of bone will be pulled away in an injury known as an avulsion fracture. Philadelphia's Arnett Moultrie is expected to be sidelined through January after undergoing surgery to repair this type of injury.

The final ankle sprain to discuss is the high ankle sprain. High ankle sprains occur to the distal tibiofibular joint that forms the mortise of the ankle joint. High ankle sprains results when the ligaments that stretch across this location are disrupted. They often require a longer recovery time as the stability of the entire lower leg is compromised.

Meniscus Tears

Meniscus injuries are on a steady rise in the NBA and are currently sidelining multiple players, including Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook and Minnesota forward Chase Budinger. Beneath the patella (kneecap) and between the bones of the thigh and lower leg sit two fibrocartilage disks known as the menisci. Each meniscus acts as a shock absorber for the knee while aiding in stability. Unfortunately their anatomical position on the knee makes them prone to tearing when the knee is violently twisted. Once damaged, arthroscopic surgery is needed to repair the injury site. A repair is usually performed when the tear is located on the peripheral portion of the disk, largely in part to the higher amount of blood available at this site. However, more often than not, a tear is not repaired but instead removed or “cleaned up” in a procedure known as a partial menisectomy. In the short term, the athlete is able to make a quick recovery but there long-term health could be placed at risk. Since the cartilage is removed, further problems, such as arthritis, are more prone to developing in the future. Westbrook and Budinger each had menisectomies and will miss the start of the season.

Fast Breaks

Kobe Bryant: The Lakers have already ruled out Bryant for the season opener and he likely remains several weeks away. He told reporters he wanted to complete a vigorous three-week conditioning program before returning but those plans were out on hiatus per doctor's orders.
James Harden: Harden was back at practice Sunday after suffering a minor right knee contusion in the final exhibition game. Look for Harden to play Wednesday against the Bobcats.

Ty Lawson: The Nuggets are unsure if Lawson will dress for the season opener following a groin strain. Since Lawson's game is predicated on speed, a groin strain would impact him significantly and giving him a few games off early on could be in the best interest of his long-term availability.

Steve Nash: A neck injury sidelined Nash for the Lakers final preseason outing and may limit him right out of the gate. He's hoping to play in the opener against the Clippers on Tuesday, but coach Mike D'Antoni admitted that there's a possibility the former MVP sits out the second of back-to-back games.