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Here’s what Lonzo Ball had done to his knee, and what it likely means for his future

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Lonzo Ball had part of his meniscus removed rather than repairing it. Let’s break down what that means for the Lakers guard.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Detroit Pistons Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

As this site covered yesterday, Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball openly addressed his meniscus procedure on the latest episode of “Ball in the Family” when he told Lavar:

“They’ve got to take it out..they said they could repair it but it would take me six months to get back. But, if they just take it out it will only be six weeks.”

What Lonzo is saying is that they opted for a partial meniscus removal to cut out the damaged piece of the meniscus (“a partial meniscectomy”) rather than stitching the meniscus back together (“a meniscal repair”):

Image via OrthoCenter

Doctor’s note: This procedure is NOT what Dwyane Wade had in college, resulting in numerous knee problems down the line. If you think of the meniscus like a piece of cheese between two buns, Lonzo had a little moldy piece removed whereas Wade had the entire thing taken out.

The timetable for a meniscus repair is considerably longer because the tissue needs time to biologically heal after being put sewn back together. However, you’re left with the entire meniscus intact.

Additionally, during a meniscal repair, the surgeon may also repair the roots of the meniscus. This technique is relatively new and there’s emerging evidence that preserving or repairing injured roots of the meniscus (think of the roots as anchoring the meniscus down to the bone) can benefit overall recovery and function.

The fact that Lonzo chose the former option doesn’t come as much of a surprise because all the post surgery indicators pointed that way — as I wrote about here. Now that it’s confirmed, will this choice come back to haunt him?

Most likely not. The research shows that individuals under the age of 35 (Lonzo is just 20) with isolated meniscus tears who undergo a partial meniscectomy do quite well. One study followed people for 10 years after this procedure and nearly 95 percent were satisfied with the surgery and over 85 percent of them were completely symptom free at 10 years post surgery.

That being said, a partial meniscectomy compared to a meniscal repair does come with one potential risk factor: An increased risk of developing arthritis in the knee joint.

I say “potential” because meniscal repair is still a new technique so evidence on differences isn’t entirely concrete. However, even if we assume it’s true, I’m very confident that Lonzo can buffer against that risk for two reasons.

For one, his meniscus tear was very likely a small tear. The smaller the tear and the less that needs to be removed, the better off the knee joint is (the meniscus is essentially a cushion between the two knee bones). That’s why a surgeon’s goal during a meniscectomy is to retain as much of the meniscus as possible.

A larger tear would have resulted in clear overt symptoms whereas a smaller tear results in variable symptoms that aren’t nearly as limiting. Additionally, if the tear was larger, the medical staff wouldn’t have first opted for a platelet rich plasma (PRP) injection to try and address it conservatively (which was 100 percent the right decision in my opinion).

Additionally, the entire organization has shown a great understanding of risk/reward ever since Luke Walton, Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson were installed into their current positions. If Lonzo was at considerable risk by opting for this removal rather than the repair, they wouldn’t have signed off on it.

The second reason is that Lonzo can buffer against any increased risk of arthritis through a proactive commitment to:

  • Strength and endurance training
  • Neuromuscular control (the unconscious process through which muscles are timed and activated to control dynamic joint stability). It consists of multiple systems including:

Each plays a role in optimizing Lonzo’s muscles to absorb shock effectively and take pressure off his knee while creating fluid and stable movement patterns. He and the training staff will have to be extra vigilant about his mind, body and overall fitness.

The Final Takeaway

All in all, it’s very likely that the choice of partially removing the meniscus (a partial meniscectomy) rather than repairing it won’t pose much of an issue. Even though the risk of arthritis may be upped, I’m confident the organization did their homework on the risk/reward and understand that removal of a slight meniscus tear can be buffered against by proactively reinforcing and bolstering the entire knee joint through specific training and recovery.

Thanks for reading, now back to your regularly scheduled programming of dissecting Lonzo’s jumper frame by frame.