In the third quarter of the Golden State Warriors Game 5 win over the Houston Rockets, superstar forward Kevin Durant exited the game with what has been ruled as a mild strained right calf.
Kevin Durant injury update: pic.twitter.com/M4oQBpLPyq- Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) May 9, 2019
Our medical expert, orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Michael S. George of the KSF Orthopaedic Center in Houston, Texas, weighed in with some expert analysis of Durant's injury and factors that will influence his recovery and return to action.
On the composition of the calf and why calf injuries occur:
The calf muscle is also called the triceps surae and consists of three separate muscles: The gastrocnemius, the soleus and plantaris, which then join to form the Achilles tendon.
The gastrocnemius has a medial and lateral head; the most commonly injured muscle in the calf is the medial head of the gastrocnemius - this is a common injury in athletes and is sometimes called tennis leg. The gastrocnemius is at high risk for injury because it has a high density of fast-twitch muscle fibres and crosses two joints: The knee and the ankle.
On how calf strains occur and can be a frightening injury:
Calf muscle strains occur when the knee suddenly extends with the foot flexed up. There can often be a palpable or audible pop sometimes called coup de fouet, or snap of the whip, which can be similar to the pop that occurs with an Achilles tendon tear.
On the varying severities of calf strains and treatment:
An MRI can determine the extent of the muscle disruption, which can then be used to determine treatment and to predict the length of recovery. A Grade 1 injury, also called a strain, involves disruption of less than 10% of the muscle fibres, and is presumably the injury that Durant suffered.
A Grade 2 injury involves disruption of 10%-50% of the muscle fibres and a Grade 3 injury is 50%-100% disruption.
The initial treatment is to control the inflammation using rest, ice, compression and anti-inflammatory medications. Once the inflammation has improved, the injured muscle requires gentle stretching and then a gradual return to activity.
On factors impacting Durant's return to action:
Since the calf muscles are important for jumping and explosive movements, he will need to be pain-free to return to the court at his usual level. This process could be anywhere from one to six weeks depending on the true severity of the injury and how fast his particular injury recovers.
On other examples of the varying return times from such injuries:
For comparison, Pascal Siakam of the Toronto Raptors suffered a calf strain in Game 3 of the second-round series vs. the Sixers and he was able to return for Game 4. Other players have missed four to six after calf strains but with Durant's injury being termed 'mild', his recovery time would be expected to be on the shorter side.
On whether or not this issue will persist for Durant moving forward:
Similar to hamstring strains, recovery from these injuries can be all across the board. While the recovery can sometimes take a long time, this would not be expected to be a lingering issue for him and should not affect his impending free agency.