Physical therapists play an integral role on the sports medicine team

Andrew Bynum from 2012 when he played for the Lakers. Photo: Keith Allison / CC Flickr

Andrew Bynum from 2012 when he played for the Lakers. Photo: Keith Allison / CC Flickr

There’s a battle of the “reclamation projects” — what I like to call it — going on in the NBA right now.

Cleveland Cavs’ Andrew Bynum is rehabbing his knee 6 hours a day to get ready for the season, while Miami Heat’s Greg Oden is working with a physical therapist 5 hours a day after several microfracture surgeries.

Today, I had the chance to speak with WAKR host Ray Horner about these athletes and their future careers. When we talk about team, physical therapists are an integral player for long-term rehabilitation programs.

Below is an audio file and transcript of our discussion.


HORNER: My good friend, Dr. Joe Congeni, on board with us right now. Joe, good morning, what do you have for us today?

DR. CONGENI: Hey, Ray. Well, you know, we gotta at least mention this big game tonight. That’s gonna really be fun.

HORNER: Oh yeah.

DR. CONGENI: You and I have been talking through the summer and just not really believing [if] this team can get there, and now they’re there. And, it comes down to one game.

I’m most happy for the kids. You know, like your kids, for my kids to see a meaningful game and what it’s like for a community to get excited about their sports team and also the resiliency of this team. How, even at the pro level, a team coming together can accomplish great things.

So, win or lose tonight, I’m excited for that game.

HORNER: We are winning, Joe. Don’t mention that word. We’re winning.

DR. CONGENI: [laughter] Alright.

The other thing that’s going to be interesting this year when it comes to team … in the NBA, Ray, there’s a battle of the reclamation projects, I call it. There are two parallel reclamation projects, and we’re gonna see which one of these two, if either, come to fruition.

Dr. Joe Congeni

Dr. Joe Congeni

One is a gentleman by the name of Andrew Bynum of the Cavs, a 25-year-old guy. In 2009, he played in the finals with a torn MCL — medial collateral ligament. In 2010, he played with torn cartilage in his knee, if you remember.

Pau Gasol (of the Los Angeles Lakers) said it was one of the biggest sacrifices he’s ever seen a teammate give.

He tore up his knees and he could not play at all last year, and he was paid a lot of money to not play in Philadelphia. Now, he’s rehabbing 6 hours a day to try and get ready for the Cavs.

In the meantime, down in Miami, there’s a gentleman by the name of Greg Oden, who’s also 25 years old. He hasn’t played in 3 ½ years. He’s had 3 microfracture surgeries. He’s rehabbing 5 hours a day down there.

The amazing thing to me, one thing that came out in the paper, is that the (Philadelphia) 76ers didn’t even have a staff physical therapist working with Andrew Bynum last year.

So, it brings up the point that the sports medicine team is a lot like the sports team — different people have different roles. We talk here all the time about athletic trainers being out on the field and seeing the injuries, shoulder injuries and the concussions, and all the good work they do.

Physical therapists play a very important role on the sports medicine team, too. When you have those long-term rehabs after ACLs, fractures or surgeries, it’s the PTs — the physical therapists — that put together the rehab program. Many Division I colleges and even some pro teams don’t even have a physical therapist on their staff.

So, they’re paying millions of dollars to Andrew Bynum and they don’t even have a therapist working with him. In Cleveland now, he’s working daily six hours with a therapist.

You know the rest of the team gets a lot of attention. People talk about Dr. James Andrews and all these reconstructive surgeries. And yeah, that’s one part of the team, but a very important part of the team is that physical therapist.

We’ll watch this year and see if either Andrew Bynum or Greg Oden can make the long trek back to actually playing meaningful NBA minutes.

HORNER: Joe, I always go back to what you told me on the show one time when Grady Sizemore (former Cleveland Indian) had that microfracture in his knee. You said point-blank, I don’t think he’ll ever be the same, and he wasn’t. I always bring that conversation up.

What about with Bynum’s injury and the work he’s put in? Can we expect to see him back at full capacity or how does that injury affect an NBA career?  

DR. CONGENI: Oh my gosh, Ray, it is really a long shot. It’s tough. I mean, when you think he’s in there 6 hours a day, he’s doing a lot of pull work because at 290 lbs., you can’t just have him pounding all 6 hours on those joints, which are pretty degenerative.

Another take-home point is, yeah, he did play when he had torn cartilage, torn meniscus in the 2010 Finals. I don’t know if you remember that. He had several shots that he took to try and get through those finals, and he kinda mortgaged his future.

I think it really is a long shot for either of these two, but particularly Andrew Bynum. When you get to that stage — we talked about kind of a degenerative stage — [it’s tough]. You know, he’s trying everything there is, and microfracture is really a last resort. That’s what we saw in Grady Sizemore.

I think the chances are a long-shot with Bynum, but at least he’s got the right people on the team, the physical therapists working with him daily to give him a shot.

HORNER: Alright, sounds good, Joe. Good information, my friend. We’ll catch up with you next week.

DR. CONGENI: Yeah, enjoy this game tonight with your family and friends. This is gonna be a lot of fun.

HORNER: It most certainly is. Thanks, Joe.

DR. CONGENI: Thanks, Ray.

HORNER: Dr. Joe Congeni, Sports Medicine Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, on board.

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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.

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