The fate of John Wall’s left knee deserves its own chapter in the story of this Washington Wizards season. Medical terms such as “viscosupplementation” and “arthroscopic debridement” have filtered into the vocabulary of Wizards loyalists, while an orthopedic surgeon in Cleveland, Richard D. Parker, has become a household name.
On Wednesday, the most scrutinized body part on Washington’s roster endured another surgery as Wall had his sore left knee cleaned up by Parker at the Cleveland Clinic’s Marymount Hospital, less than two years after having calcium deposits removed from his left patella tendon. As Wall begins the projected six-to-eight week rehabilitation, the question arises: What’s next?
According to experts in the fields of orthopedic surgery and physical therapy, Wall, the five-time all-star who signed a super max contract extension last summer, underwent a minimally invasive procedure in which nothing was sown together. He should immediately be able to conduct everyday actions.
“The good thing is you can walk on it right away, you can do low-impact activities right away,” said Alexis Colvin, a knee surgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City and the chief medical officer for the U.S. Tennis Association, who has not worked with Wall but agreed to provide context on his procedure. “But everything is a step-by-step progression, so of course you’re not going to play a high-impact sport right away. You have to build up to that point.”
Longtime physical therapist Alan Tyson, the president of Architech Sports and Physical Therapy in Charlotte, likens the procedure to repairing a frayed carpet. Instead of replacing the whole covering, just a delicate touch will do to fix the out-of-place piece. In a sense, Wall’s left knee is similar — it needs a slight touch-up.
Although it is unknown what exactly was removed from Wall’s knee, Tyson — who also has not treated Wall but has worked with NBA, NFL and major league baseball players in physical rehabilitation — described what the next six weeks could look like for a recovering athlete.
The first seven days after surgery are typically about reducing the swelling. To aid with that, athletes have been known to use recovery technology such as Game Ready or NormaTec. By weeks two through four, an athlete can return to general strengthening and cardio work on an elliptical bike. If all goes as planned after the end of the fourth week, and an athlete has full range of motion and good strength, then someone like Wall can begin to run and participate in on-court work over the next two weeks. That would mark the six-week period, though the progression of the steps can only be determined by the amount of swelling in the knee.
“Swelling is always the guide,” Tyson said. “If he’s still swollen, then that tissue is not accepting the force we’re putting upon it so that just slows down rehab.”
On Nov. 7, Wall initially suffered the injury from knee-to-knee contact during a game against the Dallas Mavericks. Wall began to experience inflammation in his left knee and though he missed nine games for recovery after getting platelet-rich plasma and viscosupplementation injections, the process did not cure the ailment. For an athlete who attempted to play through persistent soreness, Colvin suggested that the upcoming rehab will not only target the recovering knee but also the other overused muscles.
“It’s going to affect everything around the knee, so your muscles will start to compensate and other body parts will start to compensate,” Colvin said. “You take those things into account when you’re doing the rehab after. . . . Your whole body is compensating to deal with this particular injury and you may have other things you need to work on in the recovery process with physical therapy.”
Tyson warned that even after an approximate two months of recovery, an athlete who has undergone even minimal surgery likely will not return to original form.
“I say this to everybody, you can come back and play within six to eight weeks but there’s no way you can be 100 percent in six to eight weeks because you’re not at 100 percent going into surgery,” Tyson said. “You can be back to the level you were going into surgery, maybe a little better but it’s going to be until the offseason when you can get some down time before you can truly be 100 percent.”
Wall’s recovery timeline could force him to miss more than 20 games. The Wizards will be nearing the end of the regular season schedule March 21, the eighth week from the date of surgery. Even so, Tyson said he believes Wall should return ready to play following his knee clean-up.
“You got a great athlete, you got great care,” Tyson said. “The odds are in his favor. He should do really well.”
Read more on the Wizards: