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In Street Clothes

Covering sports injuries from the perspective of a certified athletic trainer and backed by analytics.

Understanding Rudy Gobert’s Knee Injury and the Associated Uncertainty

The Utah Jazz returned to the postseason in an impressive fashion, stealing a Game1 win from the Los Angeles Clippers. However the focus after the game was centered on the health of Utah center Rudy Gobert who suffered a left knee injury just 20 seconds into the contest.

While setting a screen, Gobert collided with Clippers forward Luc Mbah A Moute. The impact forced Gobert’s left knee into hyperextension, sending him to the ground. He was helped to the locker room by teammates and would not return to the game.

Early reports described the knee injury as a sprain, suggesting one of the stabilizing ligaments of the knee was involved. This diagnosis was especially concerning, considering Gobert previously suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) in the same knee during the 2015-16 season. He missed 18 games recovering.

Fortunately a MRI taken late Saturday night revealed all knee ligaments, including the MCL, intact. The final diagnosis has to be considered a win for the Jazz, particularly since the medial meniscus also remained undamaged. As a result, surgical intervention will not be necessary.

Specifically, Gobert’s injury has been ruled a left knee hyperextension and bone contusion. Isolated, these two bits of information provide a limited assessment of the issue. The hyperextension aspect of the diagnosis provides insight as to how the injury occurred but not the involved structure. The bone contusion aspect of the findings provides the type of injury accrued but fails to pinpoint the location of the damage.  Bone contusions at the knee can occur to the tibia, the femur, and even the patella, with each site carrying a varying recovery rate.

However, together the two descriptors offer a clue as to where the injury likely occurred. Bone bruises often follow patterns based on the mechanism of injury (MOI). Since the MOI in Gobert’s case has been pinpointed as a hyperextension, the patterns associated with this generated force are in play. When a hyperextension occurs, the knee joint is forced beyond its normal range of motion. This action often forces the distal ends of the femur and the anterior aspect of the tibia to knock together. The impact can bruise either location or involve both bones, leaving a pattern known as “kissing” contusions. Earlier this season Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant sustained a Grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibia bone contusion after hyperextending his knee.

While Gobert avoided ligament damage, bone contusions remain significant injuries that require time to appropriately heal. There were at least 14 cases of isolated knee bone contusions reported in the NBA this season, including Gobert’s teammates Derrick Favors and Rodney Hood. The recovery time varied wildly from case to case but the average missed time was 20 days or 12.2 games lost per incident. Keep in mind the injury carries the aforementioned degree of variability and specific patterns for these reported cases remain undisclosed. As a result it is difficult to estimate exactly how long Gobert will be sidelined. The Jazz echoed this sentiment late Sunday, opting not to provide a definitive timeline on Gobert’s availability. Look for the situation to remain fluid as the series progresses with Utah continually reevaluating Gobert’s status.