Orthopedic surgeon explains Grade 1 MCL injuries


Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) applauds his teammates from the sidelines during a shoot around on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.

Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) applauds his teammates from the sidelines during a shoot around on Wednesday, March 7, 2018 at Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. by Nick Krug

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.”


Sam Allen 1 year ago

Help we need him! We can't pressure the crap out of the ball without him.

Dirk Medema 1 year ago

It is good to have learned last weekend that we are more than capable of winning through the first weekend without Dok. It would certainly be nice to have him back but it is next weekend when we start to need him again - if the rest of the team is dialed in.

John Fitzgerald 1 year ago

I say we start Mitch regardless and continue to work with him and De Sousa with Dok ready to go on the bench. If we handle Penn like I'm hoping we shouldn't need him. And if we move on to Saturday then I do a bit of the same thing. Have Dok ready but don't start him. If all goes as planned maybe we can get through this weekend without even putting him on the floor. But as we know hardly anything goes as planned in the NCAA tournament.

Shannon Gustafson 1 year ago

Good thing 90% of his post moves involve pivoting to the left, not the right!

Steve Zimmerman 1 year ago

What's the best treatment besides resting the effected muscle? Would knee pads or brace help stabilizing the area? How about yoga or stretching exercises? I hope a full recovery and not 90% or 98%. The chance of getting hurt again is high, especially in the tournament. He needs to protect the area, I would think.

Jerry Walker 1 year ago

Re-read the article. According to the surgeon you're completely off-base concerning resting the knee and the possibility of further damage.

Steve Zimmerman 1 year ago

Gotcha. Yeah, missed it badly. Hopefully he can tolerate the pain.

Robert Brock 1 year ago

Without Azubuike, KU will struggle to make the Sweet Sixteen.

Jonathan Allison 1 year ago

I read or heard somewhere that Udoka has been fitted with a custom knee brace. Maybe have been a Bill Self interview on ESPN.

I'm surprised that Udoka may still experience pain for several months, but it sounds like possibly the type of pain that won't impact performance. I've had injuries where I've had pain for long periods of time that never really slowed me down or impacted my performance. It wasn't severe enough pain that I would want to stop playing... I called it "good pain". Soreness might be a better word than pain. Like after an ankle sprain has healed enough that one can continue participating without limitation. It still "hurts" when you make that cut or get down in that defensive stance, but it doesn't really bother you any, especially after you get the rush of competition.

I wonder if the lingering pain will be more like that.

Craig Carson 1 year ago

hopefully KU will hit so many 3's and build such a huge lead that Azibuike wont even have to be on the court

Barry Weiss 1 year ago

I don't like the sound of this.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.