Rajon Rondo Fears: Is ACL Injury Bug NBA's Version of NFL's Concussion Woes?

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Rajon Rondo Fears: Is ACL Injury Bug NBA's Version of NFL's Concussion Woes?
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

As 21st-century athletes become better, faster and stronger, the fundamentals of sports have been forced to evolve as well.

Case and point: the NFL. If America had a nickel for every time a football fan complained that the league was becoming too soft, the government would be out of debt.

However, Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy’s research has proven that the game of football must change. Of the 35 professional football player’s brains donated to the center, 34 showed evidence of CTE, a “degenerative brain disease brought on by repeated hit to the head that results in confusion, depression and, eventually, dementia,” reports ABC News.

Back in 2010, Roger Goodell implemented new rules to reduce head injuries and as the NFL continues to create a “sounder” environment, more eyes have started to shift to the NBA.

Fingers were quick to point to David Stern after the Chicago Bulls’s beloved star Derrick Rose tore his ACL in the first round of the 2012 playoffs. Along with Rose, Minnesota Timberwolves Rick Rubio and New York Knicks Iman Shumpert suffered season-ending injuries to their knees last year.

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon was not afraid to attribute Derrick’s injury to the overloaded schedule following the hopeless NBA lockout. “But a very smart man I know who makes his living in the basketball industry is miffed by the notion, held by many of us, that the compacted season contributed mightily (not at all, in his opinion) to Rose's injury,” wrote Wilbon.

In case it was not clear, the "very smart man" to whom he was referring was Stern.

While Stern first denied any accusations that the shortened season could have caused the multiple ACL tears, he later told CBS Sports Reporter Jim Rome the injures “may be related” to the congested schedule.   

However, other evidence doesn't point to any such conclusion. Dr. David Altchek from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York told the Associate Press, “There is no evidence that wear and tear, or that kind of issue, playing too much, really has any correlation with ACL injuries in any sport that we’ve ever studied.” 

Beyond such medical claims, it has also been affirmed that genetics play an intricate role in ACL injuries. The New York Times reported that women are up to five times more likely than men to have their basketball careers disrupted due to ACL injures caused by anatomical, biomechanical and hormonal reasons.

So what does this have to do with the NBA and Rajon Rondo, the latest ACL victim, you ask?

The point is that it is critical to ask if the player or the game is at fault. Are ACL tears the counterpart to NFL’s concussion misfortunes? Cleary head injuries are worse when it comes to issues like suicide and poor quality of life, no one is arguing otherwise. But both ACL and head injuries will end or disrupt a career.

Now, two players have already lost their season to a serious knee injury. As with Rondo, a knee injury also terminated the 2012-13 campaign of Golden State Warrior Brandon Rush.

Basketball is an explosive sport, one second a player is sprinting down the court, then the next he or she has to come to a complete stop. While the old way of thinking assumed that the physical nature of the sport took a toll on a player's knees, new evidence is beginning to insinuate that ACL tears are just the result of bad genetic luck. 

Dr. Tarek O. Souryal, a knee/ACL surgeon at Texas Sports Medicine, studied a link between bone anatomy and ACL tears. He concluded that if one possesses a narrow tunnel where the ACL and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) reside than there is not enough room for the ACL to operate when making sharp cuts. Those who have a narrow tunnel within their leg are 26 times more likely of tearing an ACL when moving quickly and changing directions.

Modern medicine has progressed in such a way that bouncing back from a serious knee injury has never been better. Bonzi Wells, Baron Davis and Jamal Crawford are just a few examples of players who recovered fully from severe ACL trauma.

Crawford went as far as to say, “The actual leg you injure ends up being stronger than the leg that's not injured. But you don't believe that at first. You're scared. You doubt.”

While players still need to be cautious on the court, it seems as if ACL injuries are not the NFL’s version of concussions. Concussions are direct causes of hard hits to the head. Period. While ACL injuries may show correlation to the game of basketball, causation has not been verified. 

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