De’Andre Hunter recovery timeline 3-6 weeks, per orthopedic surgeon

The Hawks lost one of their key players, at least for a little while, when they announced Sunday that forward De’Andre Hunter would undergo a lateral meniscus arthroscopic debridement procedure Monday.

Hunter is a key defender for the Hawks and had shown vast improvement so far in Year 2. In 18 games, he was averaging 17.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 32.2 minutes. He has missed four games and an update on his recovery plan won’t be given for approximately another two weeks, per the Hawks, which means they’ll be without him for seven more games during that time.

To learn more about the surgery and the typical recovery timeline, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spoke with Michael Banffy, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and a team physician for the Los Angeles Rams and Dodgers.

Per Banffy, this is one of the most common orthopedic surgeries that’s done, and he estimates the recovery timeline is generally three to six weeks.

“This is not something that is really very rare or complex,” Banffy said. “The recovery is very predictable.”

In the knee, Banffy explained, there are two types of cartilage: articular cartilage, or connective tissue that covers the ends of the bones that’s smoother and glossy and provides a frictionless surface.

There’s also meniscus cartilage that has a similar consistency to an earlobe; it’s spongy and a good shock absorber. That’s the kind that’s addressed by this kind of procedure.

“What can happen is you develop a tear in that cartilage, and that can be a significant pain generator, because there are some nerve endings in that cartilage, but even more importantly, when there’s a little unstable flap, when a player pivots on that knee, it pulls on that little flap, which then in turn pulls on the capsule of the knee, which has a lot of nerve endings and can cause a lot of pain,” Banffy said. “So when players have not just pain but also mechanical symptoms, that kind of thing, that’s when they’re indicated to undergo this procedure.”

During the debridement, the damaged parts of the meniscus are shaved away, leaving only the healthy part.

“What we do is just go in there with a scope, we have these little special instruments that are little motorized shavers as well as little biters and we basically just trim away the damaged area of the meniscus, really analogous to a hangnail,” Banffy said. “And so once you get rid of that little damaged piece, the pain’s gone, the mechanical symptoms are gone and they’re able to get back to play.”

This is typically not a procedure for an acute injury, per Banffy. According to the Hawks, Hunter’s right knee discomfort was caused by wear and tear. On Jan. 30, the team announced that Hunter had undergone an MRI and “non-surgical procedure” to address articular wear and tear in his right knee.

Depending on the exact kind of tear or type of cartilage damage, that would typically entail either a cortisone, hyaluronic acid or PRP injection, Banffy said.

After surgery, the first priority is to let the swelling calm down, but people often advance to strengthening their knee after a few weeks. Of course, every situation is different, and the Hawks will have to see how Hunter is feeling and handling his rehab.

“Generally, they’re walking on it the same day as surgery, and the first stage is to get all the swelling out,” Banffy said. “Just the trauma of the surgery will cause some swelling. It’ll normally take about a week or so to have the knee be nice and quiet, calm, no swelling, and then usually at that point they usually start getting back to a strengthening program, and within a couple of weeks, if they’re nice and strong and they’re showing good neuromuscular control, then you can get them to start doing some running again, doing some court-specific stuff.”

All in all, compared to many other knee surgeries, the recovery time from this procedure can typically be less extensive.

“It can be a really accelerated recovery, because you’re not really waiting for anything to heal except for really the skin,” Banffy said. “Once you trim away that bad part, you don’t really need to protect it at all.”