While LeBron continues to display his ability to play through tough injuries, the Cavs other super star, Kyrie Irving, has been hampered by a nagging left knee injury that has already caused him to miss a game in the Eastern Conference Finals, and potentially more. How will this injury affect his presence in the Finals set to start next Thursday?
The Injury – Left Knee Tendinitis
I know what you’re all probably thinking right now…left knee tendinitis is a really general diagnosis. While that is definitely an accurate thought, I feel pretty confident assuming that the injury is most likely either a quadriceps tendon tendinitis or a patella tendon/ligament tendinitis. In either case, the impact of the injury and the course of treatment Kyrie will have will be quite similar. But, before we dive into all of the fun stuff lets first go over the role of the patella tendon and what tendinitis is.
The patella tendon/ligament connects the patella (kneecap) to the tibia (shin bone) and assists with keeping the kneecap in place, as well as with extending the knee. When a tendon, such as the patella tendon, is inflamed it is generally termed “tendinitis.” The term tendinitis literally means tendon inflammation. With that said, the term tendinitis is often overused as a type of general term for any type of tendon issue. However, for the purpose of this post, we’re going to assume that Kyrie actually does have left patellar tendinitis.
How did Kyrie get patella tendinitis?
Well, I can tell you that playing professional basketball for a living had a lot to do with it. Any type of tendinitis is typically a result of overuse of a certain tendon. I know that overuse is a bit of broad term, so, just to clarify, I would consider playing a full NBA season plus playoffs as overuse. In addition, “overuse” also applies to the past few years of playing basketball in the NBA and on the US Olympic team.
For a basketball player, the patella tendon is continually stressed due to the nature of the sport. When a player runs, jump, cuts, etc. they are placing stress on the patella tendon. From a functional standpoint, the patella tendon attached the quadriceps muscle to the tibia (shin bone), meaning every time the quadriceps muscle (front of the thigh muscles) contracts it will pull on the patella tendon. If you have ever played basketball before, or even know the slightest bit about the quads, you can see how they are continually used throughout the course of a game.
Ok…so why don’t all NBA players have patella tendinitis than?
The best answer to this question is that every player is different. I know that that answer probably just blew your mind, but let me explain a little more. When I say that every player is different I mean that every player’s mentality and body is different from another. Tendinitis is the type of injury that early on one can push through and play with. As the injury progresses, it becomes more and more of a debilitating type of injury. In some cases a player who has been through a tendinitis injury in the past, or has a strong sense of their own body, may recognize that resting early could prevent a more serious condition. On the other end of the spectrum would be the player who tries to push through the early pain and ends up causing more damage later on. Just to be clear, I don’t know that Kyrie was one who pushed through the pain early, but I think it’s just one possibility for why some players may develop more significant tendinitis than others.
Why is a little bit of tendon inflammation keeping Kyrie out of the game?
One of the possible reasons that Kyrie was kept out of Game 3 is because tendinitis is the type of injury that doesn’t go away without a good bit of rest. Now, is sitting out one game actually going to do that much? Probably not. Was it a smart move for the Cavs to play Kyrie in Game 4 when they were up 3-0 in the series? Probably not. Is Kyrie going to be completely healthy for the NBA finals? Probably not.
The other, and more probable reason Kyrie sat out Game 3 was because patella tendinitis can be a very painful injury. A lot of times the pain from tendinitis will follow a few types of patterns:
- Pain will be worse at the beginning and end of a game but will be better during the game.
- Pain will increase with activity
- Pain will increase with certain daily activities
Whether the pain gets worse after the game, or is worse during the game doesn’t really matter. At this point, it is clear that Kyrie’s knee has reached the point of no return and once the NBA finals are over he will need a good break and some physical therapy to be ready to go for opening day next year.
Will Kyrie be good to go for every game of the NBA finals?
He MIGHT play in every game of the NBA finals, but most likely he will be a game time decision for a few games. Leading up to Game 1 Kyrie will probably feel better than he has in a while, but as I mentioned earlier the pain may increase significantly as the game progresses, increase after the game, or some combination of the two. Additionally, it is worth noting the Irving has also been playing with sore foot that he apparently injured during the Cavs opening series of this year’s playoffs. While his foot injury could still play a role in whether he plays or not, it appears to be the lesser of the two injuries at this point.
Throughout the series I would be most concerned about Kyrie’s ability to play in back to back games. However, this is the NBA finals we are talking about, and if Kyrie can play through the pain he will. Worst-case scenario…maybe the Cavs could just sign Uncle Drew to a 10-day contract and have him start instead.
As always, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or tweet them to @Dschwartz_PTs.