Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has decided to keep playing despite tearing ligaments in his right wrist; while this isn't a major injury, some torn ligaments can mean bench time for professional athletes as well as weekend warriors.
First, to Bryant's injury. We spoke with Dr. Christopher Ninh, an orthopedic surgeon and medical director of the Total Joint Replacement Program at Chapman Spine & Orthopedic Institute in Orange, who is not the athlete's physician but is familiar with the type of injury he sustained.
The lunotriquetral ligaments Bryant tore connect the small lunate and triquetral bonesin the hand that are part of the wrist. "The wrist bones are connected by a meshwork of ligaments," Ninh said. They're very flexible and allow for a lot of rotation and flexion, which make the wrist very mobile." Those specific ligaments may be torn, he added, but others that remain intact can still stabilize the joint, allowing the damaged ligaments to heal.
Although he's not a hand surgeon, Ninh says he wouldn't be inclined to operate on such a tear: "I wouldn't do surgery unless [the wrist] shows instability. Those bones are so small that if you cut, you could end up causing more damage."
For now Byrant's wrist is immobilized, which will help the healing process. But in a perfect world, Ninh said, he'd advise not only keeping the injury stable but resting it until it's fully healed.
That's hard for an NBA player to do -- and also for the average gym rat who's used to exercising every day. Runners, cyclists and other amateur athletes often try to work out through the pain, not understanding the importance of resting an injured body part.
If such an injury doesn't heal properly, Ninh said, the wrist can remain unstable, possibly causing clicking, pain and impaired function -- important to note by anyone who sustains a sports-related injury.
That said, depending on the injury and its severity, it may be possible to keep exercising, as long as it doesn't affect the healing process, says Mike Ludwikowski, a certified athletic trainer and coordinator of outreach athletic training services at Susquehanna Healthin Williamsport, Penn.
"If you're working on the theory that 95% of your body is healthy, then you can still go to the gym," he said. "A good certified athletic trainer or physical therapist trained in sports therapy can make recommendations based on that."
He often reassures athletes that although an injury is a setback, the future isn't all bleak: "Maybe you can work on your core or your shoulder strength -- there are other things you can focus on while you're allowing the injury to heal," he said. That can offer a mental boost as well as a physical one.
"When you do get the green light to return to a graded program of activity," he added, "you can be a little ahead of the curve."