Amar’e Stoudemire had microfracture surgery before the 2005-06 season, and he played just three games late that year.
But he returned to make five more All-Star games, an All-NBA first team and three All-NBA second teams.
It sure doesn’t seem as if that surgery hindered Stoudemire’s career. It seems as if it saved it.
A spate of other injuries, not just the 2005 knee problem, have set him back in the years since.
That’s why I was surprised to see Stoudemire say he regretted the microfracture surgery.
Stoudemire, via Jared Zwerling of Bleacher Report:
My intense training focus first started after my microfracture surgery in 2005. That was the hardest recovery I’ve ever been through in my life. I actually didn’t know what a microfracture was. If I had known what a microfracture was, I would have never gotten that procedure. Going into surgery, it actually wasn’t guaranteed that I was going to have a microfracture.
The doctors said, “There’s an option between a scope or a microfracture depending on how big the injury is.” So I said, “OK.” They said, “We’re going to go in and see, and if it’s a microfracture we’re just going to have the procedure.” So I wake up and there’s a microfracture, so I’m like, “Holy smokes. How long am I out for?” They said, “Six to 12 months.” I couldn’t walk for like two months after the procedure. No weight bearing and I had a machine that flexed my knee for me. I was like, “Man, this is crazy.”
When I went through the recovery, one day I feel great and the next day I’m in excruciating pain. It was just back and forth. I’m hearing, “Stoudemire will never be the same. He will not recover from this injury.” They’re naming Jamal Mashburn, Penny Hardaway, Chris Webber—all these great players who had this procedure and never returned. And I have a day where I feel like, “Oh, I’m back,” and then I feel like, “Oh, can I ever get back?” So I had to work and train and work and train, and I developed a habit of training.
It seems Stoudemire was in a bad position as soon as his knee reached the level of damage it had. What were his alternatives to microfracture surgery?
I reached out to Ben Wedro of MD direct, and with the caveat he doesn’t know Stoudemire and hasn’t reviewed his medical records, Wedro provided context about microfracture surgery and answered my question:
There are two types of cartilage, hyaline and articular. Articular lines joints and is thicker and stronger than the other. Unfortunately, articular cartilage has poor blood supply and does not heal well when damaged.
In microfracture surgery, small holes are drilled through the bone beneath the damaged area. This allows blood to well into the area and clot. It begins to heal and form hyaline cartilage, not as strong as articular, but adequate to return an athlete to play for awhile.
The rehab is 6-12 months because it takes time for the new cartilage to form and stabilize. Forcing the femur onto the healing area with walking would prevent the purpose of the surgery.
There are some alternatives to microfracture surgery now available and likely could have been used in 2005, including cartilage cell injection. It requires both an arthroscopy of the knee to assess the damage and harvest cartilage cells plus an open operation to cut into the knee to perform the transplant. (The cartilage cells are reproduced in the lab to make millions to form a patch.) The rehab time is the same as microfracture.
The bottom line is that the initial injury is what altered his career. The operative repair allowed him to maximize potential after injury.
Stoudemire has had an excellent – and, at this point, underrated – career. It sure seems the microfracture surgery helped him continue it as well as possible.
An intriguing what if: How good would Stoudemire have been if not for his injuries?
But that’s a different question than: How good would Stoudemire have been if nor his microfracture surgery? It seems the answer is: about the same.