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Is Microfracture Surgery Going to Spell the End of Greg Oden’s Career?

March 14, 2012

As the 2012 basketball season was finally getting under way after an extended “Lock-Out” by owners, Portland Trail Blazers Forward, Greg Oden had hoped to begin his career fresh with his surgically repaired knees.  At the beginning of the season, Oden had 4 major knee surgeries, including 2 microfracture surgeries and 1 surgery to repair a fractured knee-cap.  On February 20, 2012, Oden was scheduled to have his fifth knee operation in Vail, CO.  While operating, this procedure quickly became Oden’s 3rd microfracture surgery.

The Portland Trail Blazers have obviously made every effort to determine the cause of the multiple knee surgeries resulting in Oden missing 279 out of 361 possible games in his short NBA career.  To date, Oden has been tested for a number of conditions that could lead to the reduction of cartilage in the knee, and have yet to reach a conclusion.

Oden was the 1st overall pick in the 2007 draft, highly touted as the most talented player entering the NBA that season.  It was a draft that included Kevin Durant (Drafted 2nd overall by Oklahoma City) who has gone on to become a superstar in the league.  Oden received his first microfracture surgery before his rookie season began, causing him to miss the entire season.

What is microfracture surgery?

Developed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, microfracture surgery has become a popular procedure to restore cartilage that may have been damaged.  Cartilage is flexible connective tissue found in the joints that cushions bone on impact.  For athletes, the repeated and persistent pressure that is placed upon the cartilage can cause it to become damaged.  As cartilage is damaged and weakened, pain can persist in the knee requiring repair, or in severe cases, total joint replacement.

The procedure essential creates tiny fractures in the bone near the damaged cartilage.  Sometimes referred to as the “self-healing” surgery, the tiny fractures are treated as injuries to the body, and the body releases stem cells to regenerate cartilage.  Since blood vessels do not connect to cartilage, it heals very slowly.  Patients are often on crutches for around 4 months following the procedure and professional athletes typically cannot resume their sport for a year following the procedure.

Why could this end Greg Oden’s career?

While professional sports can be an obvious cause of Oden’s need for surgical intervention, only one of Oden’s injuries requiring surgery actually happened throughout the course of a game.  He fractured his kneecap in a game, but all microfracture surgeries that followed did not occur due to injuries in actual games.  Listed at 7 feet tall and 285 pounds, physical activity may not be possible following the microfracture procedure.  Generally following microfracture surgery, professional athletes struggle to return to their previous performance level, and Oden has now had 3.  Other notable NBA players who have received microfracture surgery include; Anfernee Hardaway, Kenyon Martin, Chris Webber and Allan Houston.  It could be argued that all of these players struggled to return to the players they were prior to having the surgery, and/or suffered from prematurely ended careers.

Allowing the injury to heal completely following microfracture surgery is Oden’s best bet for a return to the NBA.  As cartilage is restored by the body, keeping pressure off the knee will be essential to the healing process.  Since the procedure is still relatively new, there is no guarantee that Oden will ever return to the NBA.  Constant care in the year following the procedure includes physical therapy as well as at home exercises to regain strength in the leg.  Since the surgery is most successful for patients who are not overweight, Oden at nearly 300 pounds has a longer and more difficult road to recovery.

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