It's time, Tigers fans.
it's time to stop worrying about Victor Martinez re-injuring his left knee.
For those that don't know, I have spent the last three years pursuing a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree, and will be graduating with said degree later this month. The Tigers and this site are my passion, but so is the art of rehabilitation. In particular, I love working with athletes. I love the challenge of getting them back to peak performance, I love the puzzle that is injury diagnosis, and I love their eagerness to return to their respective sport.
For that, I have to speak up. All season long, there have been comments -- both here and across other social media outlets -- about what Martinez should and shouldn't do because of his knee. Obviously, catching is out. But we knew that would be phased out after Alex Avila caught 48 of a possible 53 games to close out the 2011 season. The club signed Gerald Laird in November of 2011 to back up Avila, moving Victor to the DH slot full-time.
But sending him home from second base on a routine single to right, as Tom Brookens did during last night's game? There is no reason to think that Martinez is at risk for re-injury. Here's why.
It's time to stop worrying about Victor Martinez's knee because it has been 15 months since he underwent microfracture surgery on his left knee.
As far as we know, Martinez's injury wasn't caused by someone (or something) running into Martinez's knee. While this may seem like a freak occurrence, it's actually pretty common. Approximately 70% of ACL injuries are non-contact injuries, meaning that the person turned, twisted, or bent their knee in the wrong way, causing the ACL to rupture.
As is often the case with ACL injuries, there was damage to some of the other structures in Martinez's knee. I would imagine that spending 853 career MLB games -- not to mention the hundreds of games prior to his MLB debut -- in a catcher's squat added a fair share of damage to that knee as well.
Microfracture surgery has become increasingly popular among athletes for all manner of intra-articular (a.k.a. "inside the knee joint") injuries. In layman's terms, the surgeon uses a drill or similar apparatus to drill holes in the leg bone and allow blood and/or bone marrow (depending on the procedure) to fill the joint space. This blood flow aides in healing, bringing nutrients to the injury site while carrying waste products and damaged tissue away to be disposed of elsewhere in the body. Bone marrow contains stem cells, which may assist in cartilage formation within the knee. It's a messy procedure, but has become more effective as surgeons become more experienced with it. Additionally, Dr. Richard Steadman -- the surgeon that performed Martinez's procedure -- is one of the pioneers of knee microfracture surgery.
Dr. Steadman : microfracture surgery :: Mariano Rivera : cut fastball
Victor was in good hands from the start.
It's time to stop worrying about Victor Martinez's knee because he didn't need a second surgery.
The initial plan for Martinez's recovery was to have the microfracture surgery, then have an ACL reconstruction surgery six to eight weeks later. That didn't happen, and Martinez's timetable for return was moved up. This was about the time where we heard these "he might be back in September" rumors, and they weren't wrong. The normal timetable for an athlete returning to game action after microfracture surgery is roughly six to eight months, but can vary wildly. NBA star Amare Stoudemire had microfracture surgery in October 2005 and returned to action in April 2006. Zach Randolph, another NBA big man, had the surgery in the summer of 2005 and played in his team's first regular season game on November 2nd of the same year.
Unfortunately, baseball players haven't been as quick to recover from the procedure. Grady Sizemore missed 11 months after his surgery in 2010. He recently underwent a microfracture operation on his other knee and is currently targeting a return after the All-Star Break. Carlos Beltran had surgery in January 2010 and returned to action in July 2010, but hit .218/.329/.331 in his first two months back before heating up that September. Former Tiger Carlos Guillen hit just .232/.265/.368 with three home runs and one long staredown in 102 plate appearances during the 2011 season after he had microfracture surgery the previous September.
The biggest difference between these three players and Martinez? V-Mart had an additional three to five months of rehab time after his surgery and didn't have the same chronic knee issues that any of these other players had. This may not seem like much, but in rehab circles, it's a massive divide.
It's time to stop worrying about Victor Martinez's knee because he says so.
"Honestly, I'm not really thinking about the knee. I'm just letting the fans know, I'm not thinking about it."
That was in February. Martinez went through all of Spring Training without missing a scheduled start due to knee-related issues and has been hitting lasers all over the place so far this regular season. I documented how unlucky he was getting early on, and his numbers over the past couple weeks indicate that he's starting to get some bounces.
Based on what we have heard, Martinez has been pain-free throughout the majority of his rehabilitation. If there have been any actual setbacks, they have not been leaked to the media. If, heaven forbid, Martinez suffers a knee injury this season, it will be something that would have happened prior to his knee injury. He may have a greater risk of tearing that ACL than you or me -- professional sports will do that -- but he's no more likely to tear that sucker than any of his teammates are.
So please, Tigers fans, stop worrying about Victor Martinez's knee. It's time.