The season is over for Nurkic after he suffered a gruesome “compound fracture” against Brooklyn on Monday night. He has undergone surgery and is expected to make a fully recovery. The Blazers have reported that there is no current timetable for his return to basketball-related activities.
Nurkic’s compound fracture injury involves fractures of the two main bones of the lower leg: the tibia and fibula. A compound fracture, also known as an open fracture, means that the broken bone has visibly punctured the skin. An open fracture is more severe than a closed fracture as treatment must also prioritise minimising the risk of infection and managing the damaged skin and underlying soft tissue.
For athletes, combined fractures of the tibia and fibula are reported to often occur due to landing from a jump on a twisted foot. Nurkic’s injury matches this common mechanism as he jumped for a rebound and landed awkwardly under the basket. Another mechanism for this injury to occur is from the gradual development of stress fractures in the bone which eventually builds up and forms into larger fractures over a long period of time and then fractures all the way through.
Stress fractures are caused by repeated loading such as jumping or running which to can cause small fatigue-induced cracks of the bone. With this increased and accumulated stress to the bone over weeks or months, a single landing can exceed the total loading capacity of the structure which then causes a significant fracture. For Nurkic, this could be possible if he had been complaining of pain in his lower leg and imaging such as X-Ray or MRI had confirmed minor bone stress prior to injury but it’s impossible to say.
Paul George notably suffered the same injury during the 2014-15 offseason whilst on duty with Team USA. Paul was widely considered to miss the entire next season after suffering the injury but returned 8 months later. Despite the severity of his injury, five years later George is excelling for OKC and considered to be a fringe MVP candidate. If Nurkic is to follow a similar return-to-play timeline, we could hopefully see him on the court by November or December in the 2019-20 NBA season.
Brukner & Khan, 2017. Clinical Sports Medicine 5th ed