Golden States Warriors superstar Kevin Durant exited a playoff game with right lower leg pain on May 8.
A day later, an MRI revealed a mild calf strain. Still, the thought was that he would only miss the remainder of his team’s series with the Houston Rockets but be back at some point during the Western Conference Finals.
Two days after Durant’s injury, Tampa Bay Rays ace Tyler Glasnow pulled himself from a game complaining of right elbow pain. The next day, he was diagnosed with a mild flexor strain and the Rays announced he would be out four to six weeks.
The medical literature would suggest that, when it comes to a muscle strain, the Rays were being more realistic.
By Thursday, in the aftermath of a Game 2 win against the Trailblazers, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was telling the media that the injury was “more serious” than originally thought.
I don’t buy it.
The Warriors knew the exact nature of the injury as soon as they had the MRI result. They were just hoping Durant would recover quicker than he has. Having won the Western Conference Finals, though, Durant and Golden State now have until May 30 when the NBA Finals start. But will he be ready even then?
An article published in Medscape in March 2018 offered a comprehensive review for physicians on how best to treat a calf strain. When it comes to recovery, the article advised, “Return to play is predicated on the patient being pain free and recovering full (range of motion). This period can last 1-12 weeks, depending on the degree of tissue damage that was sustained.”
Durant’s teammate, Andre Iguodala, suffered a left calf strain in Game 3 of the series with Portland and missed Game 4, just like Durant. However, expect him to be ready by May 30 because his MRI did not reveal any damage.
Durant’s damage was visible on the MRI and therefore beyond the cellular level and more severe. That explains the skepticism regarding his return, even a week from now.
For the weekend warrior who suffers an injury in the same spot Durant and Iguaudola did, waiting on playing is advisable but waiting on rehabilitation is not. Durant, according to Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, is spending “all day long” with the Warriors sports medicine staff and has been doing so since injured. Good idea.
Regardless of age, level of play or skill, quick and aggressive rehabilitation, after suffering a strained calf, is far better than taking a “wait-and-see” approach. So says a study out of the University of Copenhagen.
In a letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine in September 2017, Danish researchers compared starting rehabilitation for a calf strain two days post-injury to waiting until nine days after the injury. Those who started within 48 hours of the injury were able to return to sport — pain-free and without any greater risk of re-injury — three weeks sooner than those who waited until day nine.
The fine print of the study may be something Warriors fans may prefer to skip. Those three weeks were the difference between 62 days and 83 days for the average time to return to sport after a calf strain.
If Durant’s recovery time ends up being “average,” the next time he plays will be during the 2019-20 season and, since he will be entering free agency, perhaps with a different team.