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The college basketball world was stunned after it was announced on Wednesday that UConn women’s star Paige Bueckers will miss the 2022-23 season with a torn ACL.
Bueckers sustained the injury to her left knee during a pickup game Monday and will undergo surgery Friday at UConn Health, according to a team release. An update on the timeline for her recovery will be provided following the procedure.
The 5-foot-11 guard missed 19 games last season after suffering an anterior tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscus tear in the same left knee. After a rehab period of just over two months, from surgery Dec. 13 to her return to action Feb. 25, she picked up where she left off, averaging 14.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
The former No. 1 overall recruit coming out of high school in 2020, Bueckers also suffered an ankle injury during her sophomore year of high school and a stress reaction in her right leg due to overuse as a senior.
Bueckers decided to stay in Storrs this summer, hoping to get stronger and prevent injury. Then, this setback happened.
“We’re all devastated for Paige,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “She’s worked really hard to get stronger and healthier this offseason, and this is an unfortunate setback. Paige is obviously an amazing basketball player but she’s a better person and teammate and it’s really unfortunate that this has happened to her.”
Bueckers received nine individual awards and recognitions during her freshman season at UConn. She became the first freshman to ever win any of the major national women’s college player of the year awards when she claimed all four she was eligible for— the Naismith, AP, USBWA, and Wooden awards in 2021.
Dr. Kris Ware, an orthopedic surgeon at the bone and joint institute at Hartford Hospital spoke about what an ACL injury could mean for her career.
What is the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and why is it important?
Ware: The ACL is one of four main stabilizing ligaments of the knee. It helps to control rotation of the knee, and also forward translation of the shin bone on the thigh bone. The most common mechanism of injury is exactly what (Bueckers) had, was a noncontact injury, where there’s kind of a sudden deceleration, and maybe a little bit of pivoting. When you tear your ACL, the ACL unfortunately won’t heal on its own. And so for a high-level athlete, you really wouldn’t expect that you’d be able to go back to sports without a reconstruction.
After that reconstruction, what is the typical timetable for recovery? Is it faster for athletes?
Ware: High-level athletes will get immediate treatment as far as athletic training, physical therapy – which I think helps with their recovery. So the college athletes and the professional athletes, they have athletic trainers and physical therapists that are working with them. That being said, the return to sports is still six to 12 months. And we know that return to sports before nine months does carry an increased risk of reinjury.
The biggest part of it is there’s individual factors where some people seem to recover their strength faster than others – more than just their strength, their agility and their coordination. Those things need to come back before you can return to sport safely.
Why is a torn ACL such a common injury?
Ware: Because the non-contact pivoting motion tends to place a lot of stress on the ACL and there’s usually not a precipitating symptom that causes you to protect it. And I think that’s mainly why we see a lot of ACL tears.
Would previous injuries have increased Bueckers’ risk?
Ware: I think that they’re separate. I don’t think that the tibial plateau and meniscus tear increased her risk for her ACL injury. The reports that I saw were that she had her strength back, she felt like she was stronger than ever. She felt like she was doing well. And so assuming that she went through all the rehab and was doing very well, it probably didn’t increase her risk of ACL injury.
Could overworking her body have increased her risk for the ACL tear?
Ware: Fatigue can. So if you get to a point where you’re fatigued, and we see this especially in like alpine skiing, but I’m sure that it’s in many other sports, where fatigue results in increased risk that you’re going to have an ACL tear.
Will the ACL injury affect her later in her career?
Ware: Not everyone gets back to play after an ACL reconstruction, unfortunately. Usually, once people have regained their strength and their coordination and agility, we can expect that they will do well once they’ve returned to sports. Down the road, she will be at a higher risk for arthritis. We know after an ACL tear, whether or not you have an ACL reconstruction, there is a higher risk for arthritis. And then there is that risk that she does not get back to the level that she was playing at before.