David Chao, MD: If Joel Embiid Meniscus Tear Is New, His Playoffs Likely Are Over

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Philadelphia Sixers star center Joel Embiid reportedly has a small meniscus tear after a Game 4 fall and will miss Game 5 tonight. Philadelphia’s hopes for this season now hinge on whether this small tear is new or old.

The good news is there is no major structural damage, which some feared when it initially happened. The bad news is the MRI found a small lateral meniscus tear. The question now is how minor and how recent.

A small tear is still potentially dangerous and can get bigger, especially if it is new. If the tear has been there (old) and hasn’t bothered him, Embiid could keep playing with medical monitoring. However, the team can’t risk long-term issues with their 27 year-old superstar and MVP candidate. It is a lateral tear, which could lead to arthritis more quickly if it progresses. Any small tear can get bigger, and if that happens with Embiid, arthroscopic surgery is an option. 

It seems the team suspects that the small tear is incidental (old) and that “the injury will be managed with a physical therapy and treatment program.”

This is a clear indication the team feels there is no acute meniscus tear, as physical therapy on a new tear would be risky and unlikely to work.

If the swelling stays down and Embiid has full function, a case can be made for this conservative care and that he could return to play in a few days. If not, he is likely headed for surgery.

Philadelphia now hopes that this is an old problem since old problems can be dealt with in the offseason.

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Written by Dr. David Chao

David Chao, MD -- known digitally as Pro Football Doc -- is an expert contributor for Outkick. Chao spent 17 seasons as the team doctor for the San Diego Chargers (1997-2013) and is part of the medical team at OASIS in San Diego where he treats and specializes in orthopedic sports injuries, working with high-profile professional athletes from the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

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