Kyrie Irving's Knee Surgery and Bacterial Infection Explained by Science

Sometimes surgeries get a little nasty.


Boston Celtics fans were devastated Thursday as a new report confirmed that NBA All-Star point guard and notorious flat-Earther Kyrie Irving would not play during the playoffs because he needs knee surgery, threatening the team’s chances at making the Finals. The surgery, scheduled for Saturday, will allow physicians to check on an infection in the knee that was discovered during a surgery he had last week.

This will be the third surgery that Irving will undergo for the same injury. In 2015, when Irving was still on the Cleveland Cavaliers, he fractured his left kneecap in Game 1 of the NBA finals against the Atlanta Hawks, taking him out of the finals. Surgery pieced together his broken patella with metal screws and a tension wire that were meant to come out at some later date. Unfortunately, that date came just as the Celtics were clawing their way back up the Eastern Conference standings this year. When surgeons opened up the knee to take out the screws on March 24, they found evidence of a bacterial infection, reports ESPN.

An x-ray image of an unnamed patient, illustrating what Irving's patellar fracture surgery might resemble.

Gwinner et al.

Though the Celtics maintain that Irving’s patella is healed and “remains structurally sound,” he is scheduled to undergo another surgery on Saturday to check that the infection has been fully cleared. The complication is an inconvenience, but it’s a fairly common one, as far as knee surgeries go. Bacteria can get into a wound through a variety of routes, and they are at home on some surfaces more than others. A review of patellar injuries published in GMS Interdisciplinary Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery DGPW in 2016 noted that infection rates range from 3 to 10 percent of cases; this relatively high rate is due to the fact that the surgery involves the “compromised soft tissue” of the knee and hardware, which bacteria can latch onto.

Treatment for infections is usually straightforward, but by scheduling a follow-up surgery, it appears that Irving’s doctors are not taking any chances. In 2013, a review in the Journal of Knee Surgery on complications of patellar surgery explained that treatment range from low-maintenance to quite intense. “Superficial infections are often successfully treated with local wound care and oral antibiotics, whereas deep infections require operative debridement and a period of intravenous antibiotics with retention of hardware until fracture union,” the authors wrote. Debridement refers to the physical removal of damaged tissue from the infected region.

Irving’s news sucks for the Celtics, who might have stood a chance at beating the Toronto Raptors if he were around, but bacterial infections after knee surgery need to be taken seriously. If they’re left untreated, they can cause swelling, fever, and, in really bad cases, even life-threatening sepsis.

Though infection is certainly treatable, the fresh surgery does mean Irving will be out of commission for the next four to five months, which won’t afford him much practice on the court but should give him plenty of time to reconsider the actual shape of the Earth.

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