Rivera Joins Large, Unhappy Club of Athletes

by Blog Burger on May 5, 2012

AP Photo/YES Network

Yankees great Mariano Rivera, felled in a freak batting-practice accident yesterday, is only the latest in a long string of athletes — famous and not-so — whose sports careers have been halted by tears to the ACL and/or meniscus.

Just during this year’s NBA tournament, the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose and Knicks guard Iman Shumpert saw their seasons end thanks to tears in their anterior cruciate ligament, which connects the thigh bone to the shin bone.

And both the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Rashard Mendenhall and Adrian Petersen of the Minnesota Vikings had to have ACL surgery this past football season.

ACL tears are common in amateur sports, too, with about 90,000 varsity high-school and college athletes a year suffering the debilitating injury. As WSJ reported last year, women are especially prone to tears, which can require extensive, painful surgery and months of recuperation.

Meniscus tears occur under similar circumstances as ACLs, when the upper leg twists while the foot remains planted. That makes basketball, baseball, soccer and football players especially prone to them.

Tears to that roughly inch-long piece of cartilage, which serves as a shock absorber in the knee, generally require less recovery time than ACL tears. But they bring more than their share of consternation to the sports world.

Linsanity came to a screeching halt after the Knicks’ Jeremy Lin suffered a season-ending tear in his left knee.

Lin joined an unhappy club that’s grown over the past year and half or so: Red Bulls forward Juan Agudelo; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones ; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez; Cubs relief pitcher Kerry Wood; and Jets safety Eric Smith all had meniscus injuries.

Pro athletes, again, are far from the only players who need to be careful. WSJ’s Health Journal explained just last month how many skiers, cyclists, joggers, golfers and other weekend warriors also damage their menisci.

And there’s a twist with the meniscus: It isn’t just sports that damages it.

Time takes its toll, too, with natural weakening and fraying occurring as people age. In one study, 30% of older women and 42% of men were found to have a tear or other meniscus damage.

If you do hurt your ACL, it might pay off to check your surgeon’s resume. A study WSJ reported on earlier this year found that if a patient’s ACL repair was among the first 10 such cases of a surgeon’s career, the patient had about five times the risk of having another ACL repair within a year as a patient whose surgeon had performed more than 150 of the operations.

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