Orthopedic surgeon explains Grade 1 MCL injuries
Without specifically addressing Udoka Azubuike’s case, Dr. James Gladstone, orthopedic sports medicine surgeon at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, offered insight on the injury that prevented the Kansas center from playing in the Big 12 conference basketball tournament last week.
Kansas team doctors diagnosed Azubuike with a Grade 1 sprain of the medial collateral ligament of the left knee.
“Grade 1 is the least severe of the sprains and that means it’s basically a mild stretch,” Gladstone said. “But for some reason, Grade 1 (sprains) tend to hurt a lot longer. It’s not uncommon for it to hurt for four or five months. That doesn’t mean that it’s unstable or he can’t do stuff on it, but I always tell my patients that they might keep feeling it for a long time.”
The injury can sideline Gladstone’s patients from playing basketball for from “four-to-10 weeks, but it really depends on how bad it is, how much it hurts, how quickly the pain settles down and then how quickly he feels comfortable.”
Azubuike suffered the injury last Tuesday in practice. KU opens NCAA tournament play Thursday against University of Pennsylvania in Wichita, 1 p.m. tipoff. Second-round games in Wichita take place Saturday at as yet-to-be-determined times.
Could Azubuike be ready in nine days?
“That’s definitely on the aggressive side, but with these it comes down more to pain and how you feel than it has to do with anything structural,” Gladstone said.
Would it be shocking to see a player return so quickly?
“It wouldn’t be shocking,” Gladstone said. “He may not be 100 percent of himself at that point, but again, if he’s able to to tolerate it and if he’s effective for them, even at a reduced capacity, he’s not going to hurt himself more by playing on it.”
Late in the 2015 regular season, Perry Ellis suffered a similar injury in a game. He returned to action a week from the following Friday, 10 days later. A Thursday return by Azubuike would be one day sooner, a Saturday return one day later than Ellis’ timetable.
Such injuries heal on their own and do not require surgery, Gladstone said.
What plays might challenge a basketball player still feeling pain from a sprained MCL?
“Three things,” Gladstone said. “Taking off on that (left) leg, landing on that leg, and the third would be a pivot to your right.”
The fact that Azubuike is doing mild workouts already is typical, Gladstone said.
“You want to start moving pretty quickly,” Gladstone said. “You don’t want it to get too stiff, moving stimulates the muscles. It’s quite an active rehab that begins quickly, certainly within three to five days.”