The moment many awaited became a reality Wednesday when the Knicks officially announced forward Carmelo Anthony will miss the remainder of the season following surgery on his troublesome left knee. The Knicks press release was surprisingly descriptive and revealed, “the procedure, which will be performed by Team Orthopedist Dr. Answorth Allen, includes a left knee patella tendon debridement and repair.”
— NBA New York Knicks (@nyknicks) February 18, 2015
Debridement procedures are common in sports, including the NBA, and are characterized as the removal of a foreign body or irritant from healthy tissue. The list of potential hazards that may require a debridement include dead tissue, bone spurs, loose cartilage, or accumulated scar tissue. Debridements can be carried out in a variety of ways including surgically and chemically. NBA players have had debridements on their elbows (Andrew Bogut and Joe Johnson), shoulders (Kwame Brown and Eddie House), wrists (Josh Howard and Kyle Korver) ankles (Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki), and, of course, their knees.
Knee debridements can be performed on multiple areas for a variety of problems. Torn pieces of meniscus can be removed as can bone spurs, articular cartilage defects, or reoccurring scar tissue. Per the press release, Anthony’s debridement will be performed on the patellar tendon, the conjoined tendon of the quadriceps muscle group that surrounds the kneecap. Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today Sports specifies that the removed tissue will include “scar tissue, calcifications, and other debris.”
The expected recovery is between four and six months, suggesting Melo’s rehab could potentially spill over into next season’s training camp. Furthermore, the surgery will raise questions about Anthony’s long-term health. Looking at over 70 examples of knee debridement procedures in the NBA, 45 percent of players that required the surgery would undergo additional surgery on the involved leg at a later point in their career. These figures include players like Joakim Noah, Tyreke Evans, and Knicks rookie Cleanthony Early who have all undergone a debridement within the last calendar year as well as several players whose careers ended within a year of their initial debridement. Anthony himself is already included in these figures having undergone a debridement procedure on his left knee prior to the lockout-shortened season.
As previously mentioned, Anthony’s latest surgery will be on a specific area of the knee, the patellar tendon. In the procedure, the degenerative tissue will be excised as well as any calcifications or nodules. The specific technique required depends on the extent and location of the damage. In some serious cases, the patellar tendon must actually be resected.
Very few reported cases of NBA players undergoing patellar tendon debridements have occurred, though two recent examples do stand out. Miami guard Dwyane Wade underwent a patellar tendon debridement prior to the 2007-08 season. Since then Wade has undergone two OssaTron treatments on the repaired area and another debridement before the 2012-13 season. Coincidently, Wade’s current teammate, Danny Granger, is the other notable individual to require a patellar tendon debridement. The surgery, performed during the 2012-13 season while Granger was with the Pacers, cost him the final 21 games of the season and all 19 of Indiana’s postseason games. Like Wade, Granger also needed another debridement procedure following the initial surgery, going under the knife shortly after signing with the Heat this past summer.
While every case is different and Anthony may very well return to a high-level of play, history suggests the knee could easily continue to be a problem moving forward. Regular maintenance and a specific, continuous rehab protocol can help minimize the affects but the early returns on New York’s $124 million investment have to be frustrating for all involved parties.