Kobe Bryant has begun his road to recovery, already undergoing surgery to repair his Achilles tendon, and all that's left is waiting. The Los Angeles Lakers continue their march towards the playoffs without Bryant, but his injury has much larger implication than a playoff run. An Achilles tear at the age of 34 will be a difficult injury for Bryant to overcome, and with the final year of his contract approaching, questions regarding his future have been rampant.
Dr. Steven Weinfeld is an orthopaedic surgeon and Chief of the Foot and Ankle Service at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. Dr. Weinfeld reached out to us to discuss his knowledge of Achilles injuries -- an injury in which he deals with on a weekly basis. His information as an unaffiliated party was both insightful, but also a reality check at just how grim an injury like this could ultimately be for Bryant.
As has every specialist and medical expert, Dr. Weinfeld confirmed that fatigue plays no part in the rupturing of an Achilles tendon. "Not at the level his body is tuned to, a bump up of even ten minutes per game in a short period of time isn't enough to cause this type of injury. It all comes back to age," stated Dr. Weinfeld as he stayed strong to the conviction that fatigue at that level of competition simply isn't a possible cause. However, it was more than the fatigue of an increased minute-load for Bryant.
Just a few weeks prior he severely sprained his ankle. He's been dealing with a bone spur in his other foot. Then, in the same game that the Achilles ruptured he also hyper-extended his knee, and went down with another unidentified injury. When asked about the possibility of his body overcompensating in the game Dr. Weinfeld has this to say, "body compensation, however, could have contributed to the Achilles tear. It's a distinct possibility his body over compensated by placing extra stress on the tendon during any of his routine movements, which could have contributed to the rupture."
Sound familiar? Bryant stated that he made a move that he's made thousands of times prior, but this time it went awry.
The injury has happened though, and it's a matter of moving forward in the recovery process for Bryant. The Lakers have placed a six-to-nine month timeframe on his return to the basketball court, but Dr. Weinfeld vehemently disagreed that there was a shot at a six month turnaround. "At age 34, that seems unlikely. Most patients don't even begin running until five months at the earliest, but a return to running at six months is more common," Dr. Weinfeld claimed "from my experience with patients, a nine month window would be as early as possible. Something closer to a full year is much more likely."
A full year? For Kobe Bryant to come back from an injury that even has the potential (according to the Lakers) to be a six month window? No way. Pressing harder, I ask about the rehabilitation process and Bryant's "legendary" work ethic. Dr. Weinfeld shut down that notion. "There's going to be a period of immobilization of the calf muscle. It's going to take a tremendous amount of patience in the early stages of rehab not to overstress the repaired tendon, as it could cause further damage. Patient's can not overstretch the tendon while it's still in the healing stages," Weinfeld explained before getting to the meat of his statement.
"Kobe Bryant is going to have to be saved from Kobe Bryant during the rehab process. It can't simply be worked though. It's a delicate process that needs time and patience more than hard work and toughing it out," Weinfeld states. It's clear, at this point, that this isn't an injury that a man who plays through injuries without hesitation is wired to deal with. It's going to be a meticulous, tedious, road that is going to test mental toughness far more than physical will, and the injury is going to dictate Kobe's future more-so than Kobe himself.
With the questions winding down and the severity of the injury understood, there's but one last thing to inquire about. The present is already at hand with Dwight Howard and the Lakers moving along and having only one game standing between them and a shot in the playoffs. The future, however, remains murky. The $30 million tied to Bryant for a season that, according to Dr. Weinfeld, will miss a large chunk of at the very least. So how will this affect Bryant's future once he returns to the basketball court?
"It's going to be a long road back, but it's not impossible. Many patients I treat indicate that during the first year of their return to physical activities they don't feel 'right'," Weinfeld stated. "The calf muscle is going to take a tremendous amount of time to recover after losing strength, but by the second year patients I have come into contact with have shown improvement." A scary thought, because if that's the case then Bryant might need until his 19th season in the league until he reaches his peak in post-injury form. A season in which he has no contract guaranteed as is, and there's still no way to know what awaits at the other end of the tunnel for Bryant.
Dr. Weinfeld went on, however, and said those four syllables that are in the back of my mind as he describes the recovery process: career-ending. "It's not outside the realm of possibility that this could be a career-ending injury for Bryant. At his level, at his age, and at the top of his field, even a five percent decrease in physical ability could be too big a setback to come back from," he says. Not outside the realm of possibility.
With a six month return which would pin Bryant as part of the Lakers' starting lineup on opening night for the 2013-2014 season up in flames, the reality of this being an injury that will rely more so on the composition of a body recovering than a man's iron will, and the possibility that even a five percent decrease in the body's output could be the drop that shatters the vino bottle, the odds are overwhelmingly stacked against Bryant coming back in elite-form, if at all.
But he's Kobe Bryant. Of all injuries, could this really be the arrow that ends the legend of Bryant, stuck right into his Achilles tendon of all the injuries it could have been? Based on all of the information at hand, we won't know any time soon. The Lakers, Bryant, and the basketball world are in for a long process that may be all for naught. The mighty has fallen, only time will reveal just how far that pit is.
We'd like to thank Dr. Steven Weinfeld, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, for taking the time to discuss the injury with us here at Silver Screen and Roll. Dr. Steven Weinfeld is a recognized expert on professional athlete injuries and has appeared on national and local TV, radio and print outlets. Dr. Weinfeld has been interviewed by USA Today, MSNBC.com, the New York Daily News, NFL.com, Golf Digest and many other publications. He is not affiliated with the Los Angeles Lakers, or Kobe Bryant, and offered his insight based on his own expert experience.
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