After missing over a month with a right calf strain, Kevin Durant returned to the Golden State Warriors in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. The return was short-lived, however, as he sustained an injury to his lower right leg early in the second quarter that would sideline him for the remainder of the Warriors emotional one-point win.
Suddenly, larger issues loomed regarding Durant's health.
Following the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr called it "an incredible win and a horrible loss at the same time." In an emotional statement, Warriors President of Basketball Operations Bob Myers confirmed that Durant had suffered an Achilles injury, adding that more testing would determine the severity.
Durant would later take to Instagram to confirm that he indeed ruptured his Achilles and has undergone a successful surgical procedure.
MORE: Myers' emotional statement
Before Durant's announcement, our medical expert, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Michael S. George of the KSF Orthopaedic Center in Houston, Texas, weighed in with some expert analysis of Durant's injury, contributing factors and the outlook for a potential recovery.
On the Achilles tendon:
"The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the human body and transmits forces from the calf muscles to the heel to enable walking, jumping and running. The Achilles can be injured when the foot is flexed downward against a resisting force."
On the varying severities of Achilles injuries and risk factors:
"Injuries to the tendon range from tendinitis to partial tears to complete tears. The most common site of Achilles tendon rupture is in a region three to six centimetres above the heel, which is called the watershed region due to its poor blood supply."
"The average age for Achilles tendon ruptures is 35, and males are 20 times more likely to suffer this injury than females. The tendon is at risk if there is preexisting partial tearing or age-related degeneration."
"Just like most muscle and tendon injuries, fatigue and overuse can also play a role. While stretching and managing load can help, there's no way to completely avoid Achilles tendon rupture."
On the type of Achilles injuries that require surgery:
"Partial tears can be treated without surgery depending on the extent of the tearing. If a partial tear involves a large portion of the tendon then surgery may be needed, and if a tear is complete then it would require surgical repair in a young, athletic patient. For an older, less active population, even complete ruptures can be treated nonsurgically with immobilization and a gradual return to activity."
On whether or not this injury could be linked to his calf strain:
Without knowing the exact private details of this particular injury, it would be fair to say it would be unusual for his first and second injuries to be in completely different parts of the calf or Achilles tendon. In other words, it would seem more likely that the second injury was in the same region as the initial injury.
On the surgery, rehabilitation and residual effects of a completely ruptured Achilles:
If this turns out to be a complete rupture, then it would need surgery. The surgery is to sew the tendon edges together with a suture. After surgery, the foot and ankle are immobilized for some period of time followed by a gradual return to weight bearing, stretching and then strengthening. Return to basketball is usually six-to-nine months. The greatest negative effect of Achilles tendon injuries is a compromise to explosive movements including cutting and jumping.
On the strength of a surgically-repaired Achilles and examples of NBA players to return:
Contrary to what some have said, the Achilles tendon is not stronger after surgery than a normal tendon, although with dedicated rehab, near-normal strength can be attained. There have been plenty of players in recent years who have returned to a high level of NBA basketball after Achilles rupture, including DeMarcus Cousins, Kobe Bryant and Rudy Gay. Others have not done as well returning to the NBA, including Wesley Matthews, Elton Brand and Patrick Ewing."
Durant, who will be 31-years-old in September, is currently in the prime of his illustrious career. He finishes the 2019 postseason averaging 32.3 points per game on shooting splits of 51.4% from the field, 43.8% from 3-point range and 90.8% from the free throw line.
As alluded to in the examples outlined by Dr. George, a torn Achilles does not necessarily mean a player can not return to a high-level of play.
MORE: Notable players to return from a ruptured Achilles
With Durant being one of the most unique talents the game has ever seen, there is plenty of reason to believe that he will be another case of a player returning to a high level of performance once he returns from this injury.
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