After a Severe Knee Injury, Can Athletes Get Back to Top Form?

Russell Westbrooke

Russell Westbrook

Point guard Russell Westbrook from the Oklahoma City Thunder recently suffered from a knee injury that’s going to take him out for the rest of the season.

It’s really going to affect the play-offs this year because the Thunder had a real shot at going all the way if he were healthy.

Today, I stopped by the WAKR studio and spoke with host Ray Horner about Westbrook’s injury and other recent knee injuries, such as those suffered by Marcus Lattimore and Derrick Rose.

I also discussed the importance of implementing AED protocols. With sporting activities spreading outdoors, schools must have procedures in place for this life-saving device in the event an athlete falls to the ground.

Below is a transcript of our discussion.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

Horner: Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, in our studio once a month, pays us a visit. We do a little expansion on, certainly, sports medicine, and Dr. Joe is really tied in to the latest information on that stuff.

I guess let’s go to knee injuries right away. The young point guard for the Oklahoma City Thunder is out. This is a tear that you see quite a bit, don’t you? And, it was weird the way it happened.

Dr. Congeni: Yeah, you know, it was weird the way it happened. It’s such a big affect on the play-offs. You know, injury is just one of those things.

Horner: Oh yeah, he’s one of the top 10 players in the league.

Dr. Congeni: Yeah, you drop him out and it’s gonna make it very tough on the Thunder and it’s gonna make it probably easier on the Heat. But if you’re in sports, injuries are going to have an affect.

So, Russell Westbrook, an odd injury, a torn cartilage. You know, the cartilage is called the meniscus. There are two of these cartilage pads in the knee. He tore the one on the outside — the lateral meniscus.

You hear in sports, particularly at the professional level, that a lot of times you get these scopes done and you can be back playing really quickly. So, that’s what they were kind of battling back and forth. Hey, they have a run at winning it all this year if he’s healthy. And so they talked about that.

But, the type of tear he had was in the area where there’s blood flow to it and you can actually fix it. For the long term of the knee, it’s better to fix it or repair it than it is to trim it out.

If you trim it out, you can get back playing quicker. If it’s the type of tear that needs to be repaired, it’s going to be several months because you have to wait for that thing to heal again. So several months, he’s done for this year.

They ended up with a repairable thing. It’s better for the long term of his knee because he won’t lose that pad. In the old days, we just would tear that cartilage out, trim it out, and then you don’t have anything as a shock absorber in that knee for the rest of your career.

In his case, they were able to save it, they repaired it, but he’s going to be out for a couple of months and they lose a window of opportunity in Oklahoma. I think it’s going to be tough for them to win.

Horner: Joe, and speaking of knee injuries, a devastating knee injury last fall. Go back to last weekend’s NFL draft, San Francisco selected Marcus Lattimore, running back from South Carolina.

Last year’s (injury) was devastating where his leg was basically twisted around — real devastating. Talk about the difficulty of coming back from an injury like that and can he get back to top form again?

Dr. Congeni: You know, those are tough and they call that the triad injury because you tear more than one ligament. That is one where you tear a couple different ligaments in the knee and some cartilage — like the cartilage we were just talking about on Westbrook.

So, it’s three things that are torn and that’s why they call it the triad injury.

And you remember back to the National Championship game, Willis McGahee (Denver Broncos running back) many years ago, he got back. It’s an injury you don’t expect back the first year.

That’s one that takes more like two years. It takes a long time to recover.

You know, I think you could see Lattimore playing again, but it’s gonna be far down the road. And the way it is these days, they’re not going to wait in the NFL.

He ended up dropping significantly as to one of the top backs and, you know, [he was] taken much later because you’re going to have to be patient with that one. It’s going to be a couple years down the road.

Horner: Well, they said, they actually are going to give him like a red-shirt year, where they’re not even going to look at working him in. In a year and a half, two years down the road is what they’re looking at.

Congeni: Yeah, you know that Ohio coach over there is doing some pretty smart things with the 49ers. If you had to say look ahead to a team that’s gonna be really big next year, look ahead to San Francisco. It’s a really smart thing because he’s not going to be ready in a year. That triad injury is devastating.

Horner: Major advancements though, Joe, it seems in these recoveries. I think of Adrian Peterson in the NFL who had a real difficult one. He came back last year and was the best running back in the NFL.

Congeni: Right. But you know, people have problems figuring it out. What about Derrick Rose (of the Chicago Bulls) on the other side.

Horner: Yeah, exactly.

Congeni: You and I have talked about that and everybody’s scratching their heads, “What the heck?” This was the one-year anniversary for Derrick Rose. You’re saying, man, Peterson was back in almost half a year, six months plus. And, in the meantime, Derrick Rose isn’t back in a year.

Horner: [What do you think about that]?

Congeni: I’m irritated by a lot of people getting on him about the standpoint it’s all in his head and it’s a mental thing and all that kind of stuff because you just don’t know.

Remember, I talked about the functional [recovery]? We don’t know the functional part about where is his strength percentage wise. Where is that explosiveness that he has? I told you guys the surgeon said he was structurally okay, but the rehab people that are working him out, they’re saying [something different]. What is his strength, his balance, his explosion? We don’t know any of those things. And to say that’s all in the young kid’s head, that’s not fair to the athlete.

Horner: Dr. Joe, you wanted to talk a little bit more about AEDs this morning?

Congeni: Well, there’s no doubt, you know, that spring now is definitely here. We’ve been thinking okay, it’s made a few appearances, but everything has moved outside. It’s a lot easier in the winter. We’re all in a gym in one place with the AEDs.

Now, I’m really making that plea, make sure that the schools and everything get their protocols together of where they’re gonna have that life-saving device. Make sure that you’re checking the batteries that it’s working. Make sure that all the coaches know how to use this.

Every year in this country there’s still 10 or 15 people that go down. We don’t have the abilities of screening everybody on the front-end, so on the back-end, we have to do as good a job with the AEDs [as we can].

We have a meeting at ABIA (Austen BioInnovation Institute in Akron) again next week about how to put protocols together to get this life-saving device in the right hands.

So, we get all excited about it, schools may have two or three of them, but where do you use them in the spring?

There are so many venues. You go out to a school, and the softball players are playing way out here, and the track athletes are here and lacrosse is at another place and volleyball is in the gym.

We have to make sure that you have those plans in place. If a kid were to go down somewhere, how are we going to get that life-saving device — the very easy to use, third graders can use it — get it to the chest of a young person? It’s life saving if somebody goes down.

And right now, every school and everybody has to be reviewing their protocols and be ready for those life-saving events.

Horner: So, what are schools doing in those situations where baseball and softball are on opposite sides of the campus?

Congeni: Well, if you have two or three of them, you know, you may have one in the area where baseball [is being played] and another [near the] track. Some schools have it on their cart.

You know those medical carts that we have? If you load it on the cart at the beginning of the day, [and use a] walkie-talkie type system, if somebody’s down in the gym, you take that cart and get back over to the gym.

That’s a way that a lot of people are using it. But, just review those protocols. They can be life saving.

Horner: Alright, Joe, thanks for coming on in. As always, we appreciate it.

Congeni: Alright, Ray. Have a great day. Thanks.

Horner: Dr. Joe Congeni from Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital with us at 1590 WAKR.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

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About Dr. Joe Congeni - Director of Sports Medicine

Dr. Joe Congeni is the Director, Sports Medicine; Clinical Co-Director, Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at Akron Children's Hospital. For the past 25 years, Dr. Congeni has been the “go to” source for national and local media looking for information about pediatric sports medicine.


  1. I was surprised that Darrell Revis did not come up in the conversation. His injury must have been deemed highly repairable given how the trade and contract were executed.

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