Dante Exum – Partially Torn Patellar Tendon & Surgery

The Jazz reserve point guard underwent surgery on March 27 to repair a “partially torn patellar tendon” in his right knee. The team has reported that he will remain out indefinitely. Primary surgical repair of the patellar tendon is reported take six to nine months to make a full recovery – this means that Exum will not likely return until the 2019-2020 NBA season.

The fifth pick in the 2014 NBA draft has had his career interrupted by injuries on numerous occasions. In previous years, he suffered an ACL tear in his left knee (2015) and, in 2017, required AC joint stabilisation to repair a “separated left shoulder”. This season he missed 25 games with a left ankle sprain and a bone bruise and four days after his return on March 11, he was cruelly ruled out with a partial tear of his patellar tendon in his right knee.

The patellar tendon connects the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone and is essential for running, kicking, jumping and other sports-specific motions (see below). The structure is usually becomes injured either via overuse (tendinopathy) or an acute overload (partial or complete rupture).  For Exum, the Jazz medical team would have trialled conservative management after he left the Timberwolves game on March 15 three minutes early with “knee soreness.” Unfortunately, the injury appears to be more serious and required surgical intervention plus a longer layoff.

With partial patellar tendon tears, patients may still maintain full active knee extension and maintain normal height of the patella. For these injuries, non-operative management consisting of immobilisation until the tendon has healed can be attempted. However, if a tear doesn’t progress as well as hoped within six weeks, direct repair of the tendon can become difficult. This is a potential reason as to why the Jazz have elected for surgery for Exum’s injury.

A positive for Exum is that his partial tear injury to his right patellar tendon is not as serious as the complete patellar tendon ruptures suffered by NBA players in recent years. Jeremy Lin and Andre Roberson both suffered complete ruptures in the 2017-18 season but have had longer and more variable timelines. Lin took just over a year to recover whilst Roberson still hasn’t returned to the court after 16 months on the sidelines. Whatever the case, I think we can expect Exum to take an extended period to return from this latest setback.

Brukner & Khan, 2017. Clinical Sports Medicine 5th ed
Annunziata. 2019. Patellar Tendon Rupture Treatment and Management. Medscape.

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