The Sixers easily swept the Brooklyn Nets without their biggest star on Saturday — but team officials offered few details about the knee sprain that persisted. Joel Embiid out of Game 4.
Embiid sprained his right knee in the Sixers’ Game 3 home win last Thursday. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said over the weekend that Embiid has a 50-50 chance of returning to play on April 29, Game 1 of the second round of the NBA Playoffs.
Here’s what to know about knee sprains, how to treat them, and what Embiid’s coaches might think as he prepares to return to the court.
What is a knee sprain?
A knee sprain occurs when one of the ligaments in the knee is stretched, said Ryan Baer, a sports physical therapist and founder of FLASH Momentum, a physical therapy practice in West Chester.
There have been few details made public about Embiid’s particular injury, and it’s unclear exactly what structures were damaged in his knee, said Dr. Alyssa Maroli, a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist at Jefferson Health MossRehab and the Einstein Spine Institute. Bair and Marulli were not involved in Embiid’s care.
After game three, Embiid reported swelling and pain in his right knee and underwent an MRI, which revealed a sprain, team officials said.
“They notice he has swelling in his knee joint, which means it’s something intra-articular: inside the knee joint,” Maroli said, “rather than the muscles or tendons around it.”
The Sixers also did not specify if Embiid tore the ligaments or overstretched them. A ligament tear would be more serious and take longer to recover, Peer said.
How do you twist the knee?
Knee sprains occur when you twist the knee too much or sustain a direct impact, such as during a fall.
Maroli said basketball players sometimes cause a knee sprain by landing awkwardly after a jump—getting off a jump and twisting the knee, or landing on an overextended knee.
“Balance exercises are really important in basketball in particular—sometimes you land on one leg, and you have to keep balance,” said Baer.
Knee sprains are common among athletes but it can happen to anyone.
How is a knee sprain treated?
Ice and compression help reduce swelling.
Maroli said coaches who work with professional athletes may use cryotherapy, a treatment that uses extreme cold, or give anti-inflammatory medications.
“Especially given where we’re at in the postseason, you definitely want to reduce that swelling,” Maroli said.
While he recovers, Beer said, Embiid will likely work on balance exercises with his trainers, strengthening his quadriceps and hamstrings. Single-leg exercises and plyometrics, or exercises that involve jumping, can help athletes maintain strength and better control of the muscles that support the knee joint, Maroli said.
For his clients, Bair uses single-leg deadlifts, in which the patient balances on one leg and hinges from the hip to lower and lift the weight, to help develop better muscle control around the injured knee.
How fast can I recover from a sprained knee?
Recovery time varies depending on the severity of the sprain and which major ligaments around the knee were injured.
Sprains often take weeks to months to heal Embiid’s recovery will look a little different than the average person’s. Getting ready to play a basketball game a week after a sprained knee is “a little bit faster than most people do,” Bear said. “[The Sixers’ trainers] They give him a lot more than anyone else might get.”
Bear said Embiid’s return on Saturday looks “possible,” though he may not have regained full strength.
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