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Trying to Make Sense of Jimmy Butler’s Knee Injury

The Chicago Bulls entered the season with hopes of threatening the Cleveland Cavaliers for Eastern Conference dominance. Unfortunately things haven’t gone has planned as the team has struggled to find an identity under first year coach Fred Hoiberg and injuries have prevented the team from establishing any continuity. The problems began just days before camp opened when veteran forward Mike Dunleavy Jr. underwent surgery to address a herniated disc in his lower back. Former MVP Derrick Rose was unable to participate in training camp after breaking the orbital bone in his face in the team’s first practice. Center Joakim Noah managed lingering soreness in his surgically addressed knee and missed nine games after spraining his left shoulder. His return to the lineup was brief after Noah re-injured the shoulder, this time dislocating the joint so severely that season-ending surgery was ultimately needed.

Now as the season moves past the All-Star Break, the Bulls will be forced to play without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler after he suffered a knee injury in a loss to the Nuggets. The team remained tight-lipped on the specifics of the injury, initially calling the injury a hyperextended knee. Additional testing revealed all ligaments intact and the Bulls changed their diagnosis to a non-descriptive strain.

These details explain how the injury occurred and suggest the injury is muscular in nature but remain vague. Unfortunately the tendon or muscle involved remains unreported, with the hamstring, quadriceps, and several other small muscle all possibilities. However in a recent interview at this weekend’s All-Star media session in Toronto, Butler provided a bit more insight to his injury revealing he injured the joint capsule in his knee.

“I was scared, ‘Please don’t let anything be wrong.’ I was asking, ‘Do I have to have surgery? How long do I have to be out? ‘Can I play in the All-Star game? Things like that because I didn’t want it to be over with,” Butler recalled. “I was scared. Obviously knowing the history with the knees, please don’t let it be something too serious.

“Yeah (I heard a pop),” he said. “Something did, but luckily, they said it was the capsule around my knee. I don’t know (what that means). I’m not the doctor.”

To clear things up for Butler, the articular capsule of the knee is a double-layered envelope that surrounds the knee joint and provides stabilization while aiding in movement. The capsule engulfs multiple structures of the knee joint including the menisci, kneecap, bursa, and the stabilizing ligaments of the area.

The capsule is strongest in the posterior aspect of the knee and is vulnerable to injury in the areas where a tendon enters the capsule. A forced hyperextension is a common mechanism of injury and would be in line with previous information used to describe Butler’s injury.


Capsule injuries often occur in conjunction with a more significant injury, like in the case of Shaquille O’Neal. During the 1996-97 season Shaq hyperextended his left knee and suffered a capsule tear, as well as a partially torn lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and fracture. Isolated capsule injuries are fairly uncommon though Kings forward Rudy Gay did miss a lone game last season with a lateral capsule injury.

With this new information, the three-to-four week recovery timeline provided by the Bulls makes much more sense. Insuring the capsule is fully healed is crucial in insuring the long-term stability of Butler’s knee and will help reduce the odds of him suffering a more severe injury upon his return. After what transpired with Noah, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bulls handle Butler extremely conservatively. In the meantime, the team will look to stay relevant in the playoff picture without their leading scorer and the Hornets and Pistons breathing down their neck.

One thought on “Trying to Make Sense of Jimmy Butler’s Knee Injury”
  1. jon February 16, 2016 on 10:26 am

    Just found this site, love the detail you give on the injuries and the analysis! based on your experience once butler returns how quickly do you expect them to bring him back to a full workload? Is there a longer “ramping up” period on knee and leg injuries more than othe types? Thanks

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