Serge Ibaka – Hoax or Hero?

When Serge Ibaka went down with what was deemed a season ending calf injury just over two weeks ago, many people wrote off the Oklahoma City Thunder. 4 games into the series, it’s tied, with Ibaka back playing and having a visible impact. Questions therefore are posed as to how such a diagnosis could be so wrong, or what, or who is responsible for his instantaneous return?

When the OKC Thunder gathered to leave on their charter flight to San Antonio on the eve of the Western Conference finals, it was reported that Ibaka couldn’t even climb to his feet and walk. His MRI was indicative of severe swelling. Across the past seven years, it is reported that there had been five of these injuries in the NBA, and no one had come back to play inside of a month.

It must be noted that there are a variety of different types of muscle tears. They can be classified into myotendinous junction – the most common, myofascial, muscle belly or tendon related. Within these respective fields we have grades of tears, obviously indicating more significant tears and more rehabilitation and time off required. However, the site of injury can often indicate the recovery period more specifically and significantly than the grade of tear.

As seen in other sports disciplines, tears that involve tendon take far longer in recovery due to the lack of healing, retraction of the tendon and often insufficient blood supply. Muscle belly tears and myotendinous junction tears tend to follow the pattern most are familiar with, but it is myofascial tears which lie in a very interesting category.

It is best understood to use an analogy of a sausage, with the meat recognized as the muscle belly and the sausage skin termed the fascia of muscle. A myofascial tear is when the external fascia between two muscles may tear. This results in similar pain presentation and inflammatory processes however can be seen to recover in exceptional time frames. This is because following resolution of inflammatory markers and cells, the muscle tissue is intact and capable of contracting to produce exactly the same force.

With this knowledge it leaves me pondering and I question whether Serge Ibaka suffered a myofascial injury and could have in fact returned to the court in a shorter time than he actually did…? Has Serge returned to full strength or is he one tough character who is pushing through barriers of pain just to get his team over the line? Game 5 awaits…

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