USA Today's For The Win, "Medical expert weighs in on Paul George's future after gruesome leg injury"

Published August 5, 2014

Medical Expert Weighs in on Paul George's Future After Gruesome Leg Injury

By: Adi Joseph

When Paul George broke his leg at a nationally televised USA Basketball exhibition, the dramatic nature of the injury caused an uproar and blame game. But while the headlines focus on NBA players at international events and FIBA court regulations, what about the open tibia-fibula fracture suffered by the Indiana Pacers forward?

For The Win spoke to Nick Grosso, a sports medicine surgeon and president of The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics, one of the largest practices in the country, about the injury from a distance. Here’s what you need to know:

How common is this kind of injury?

Watching an open tibia-fibula fracture on live television is a stunning event, instantly bringing to mind Louisville guard Kevin Ware’s injury from the 2013 NCAA tournament. But the injury itself isn’t unusual.

“It’s gruesome, especially when it’s open … and the jagged bone cuts through the skin,” Grosso said. “It usually happens in motor vehicle accidents and falls from great distance. But at the hospitals I work at, we see a couple a month, even a couple a week at bigger hospitals.”

Why did it happen?

The stanchion support for the basket was closer than NBA regulations, leading to blame against FIBA regulations. But Grosso stresses that this was a freak injury.

“The injury comes from force against the bone at the wrong angle,” Grosso said. “The worst one of these injuries, open fractures, actually was a woman who was hanging curtains and fell off a 2-foot stepladder.”

What is the immediate protocol?

“The biggest worry right away is infection,” Grosso said. “Typically with an open tib-fib fracture, you try to get the person into surgery within eight hours to make sure there’s no infection around the wound.”

The wound needs to be cleared before doctors can insert a rod into the bone to stabilize it. Grosso said that rod usually stays in permanently unless it’s causing pain, locked in with screws.

What’s the key in rehab?

The bone has to heal before any major rehab can be done, and Grosso said that takes six to 10 weeks typically. But it’s not the important area.

“The bone gets a lot of attention because it’s so obvious, but the thing I’m worried about most is the soft tissue around it,” Grosso said. “These guys are so young and athletic that the bone should heal.”

Grosso said it’s difficult to put a time frame on the healing process of the muscle without having actually done the operation himself. But though George is expected to be out for the season, that could be sped up or slowed down based on how the muscle heals while the bone is healing and before he can start doing much rehab.

Will George be able to return to his All-Star form?

Grosso cites NFL players recovering from knee ligament tears in saying it often takes until the player’s second season back on the leg for them to regain full confidence.

“Adrian Peterson obviously was the exception,” Grosso said. “But I do think that unless something goes wrong in rehab, he could be the same player.”

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