Beanie Wells: Microfracture?

When asked about his late January knee surgery yesterday, Beanie Wells told reporters that it was “just a scope,” then suggested it was “a little more complicated” than meniscus surgery. When asked specifically about microfracture surgery, Wells reportedly smiled but said no more, seemingly hinting he did have a microfracture procedure. Meanwhile, Wells’ agent Scott Howard told ESPN’s Mike Sando that Wells “did not undergo microfracture surgery or any other procedure requiring an extended recovery period,” but that the plan is to limit him until training camp.

How long can Beanie Wells and his knees survive the pounding he’ll take as a feature back? (photo by Matt McGee)

Who should we believe?

I think it’s more likely that Wells had microfracture surgery.While it’s possible that Wells’ late January 2012 surgery was a simple clean out and meniscus repair, there are enough inconsistencies in the story to think otherwise.

We know Wells had surgery to repair a torn meniscus before the 2010 season and missed three weeks, including the first two games of the regular season. We know that Wells continued to have swelling in the knee and has had injuries described as strains, sprains and bone bruises depending on who was giving the answers since that time. And Wells revealed yesterday that he knew the knee needed more work very early last year.

Chronic knee problems like these can often be attributed to “bone-on-bone” conditions, in which the smooth articular cartilage covering the bones of the joint — not the shock absorbing meniscus structures — is damaged.  Given his history and his “not really meniscus” comments yesterday, it’s much more likely that Wells had a microfracture procedure and is still within the 4-6 month rehabilitation and recovery period that follows than being limited until training camp as a precaution after minor surgery.

(Read more about meniscal injuries, articular cartilage damage and the surgical procedures recommended — including microfracture — in this blog post.)

Cartilage structures in the knee (photo from yalemedicalgroup.org)

The more pertinent question, of course, is whether this discussion is medical semantics or a meaningful distinction for Wells’ long term career. Not surprisingly, that’s a tougher question to answer. No two cartilage injuries — meniscal or articular — are the same.

Improved surgical techniques and a better understanding of the cartilage involved has made microfracture a more successful procedure in recent years with a much shorter rehabilitation period. But drilling holes to stimulate new cartilage growth in an area with a poor blood supply — microfracture — isn’t 100% effective. Even if lots of new cartilage growth occurs, it’s not the same type of cartilage. Rather than the smooth, relatively durable (when healthy) articular cartilage, the new cartilage is rougher, less durable, more fibrous tissue. Still, that’s better than a bone-on-bone, arthritic condition.

Wells will be able to continue to play through his knee condition post-microfracture surgery or, if his agent’s account is correct, after multiple meniscal surgeries and a condition that could set him up for future microfracture surgery.  Other skill position players, including Maurice Jones-Drew and Marques Colston, have been effective after multiple knee surgeries. The Cardinals likely feel the same. They haven’t shown much concern, with only Ryan Williams (returning from a major knee surgery) and Larod Stephens-Howling (72 career rushes) behind Wells on the depth chart.

But it’d be foolish to bet on the soon-to-be-24 year old running back to have a long career as the foundation of the Arizona running game. And it’s likely that this isn’t the last we’ll be hearing about knee swelling, cartilage problems and missed practice and game time for Wells in 2012.



Categories: Injury Updates

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1 reply

  1. Reblogged this on The Rookie Scouting Portfolio and commented:
    Once gain, if you’re not following @JeneBramel on Twitter or reading his blog, you’re going to miss some great stuff. See below.

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