Last week, Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant ruptured the Achilles tendon in his right leg during Game 5 of the NBA finals.
But you may recall that a month prior, Durant strained his right calf and was sidelined for four weeks.
Did Durant’s calf strain cause his Achilles rupture? The answer is yes.
The reason that I can say this is because of compensation. This is something that I treat all the time because compensation is a common cause of injuries — not always a traumatic rupture like Durant’s, but it is one of the main causes of knee pain and low back pain.
When Durant sprained his calf, he immediately began rehab and did everything he could to get back on the court as soon as possible. But as he pushed himself to a quick recovery, his body started to develop compensation patterns. Maybe his hip turned slightly, or his foot dropped a little so that he could run again without pain in his calf. These compensations were done without his knowledge or anyone else being able to see it. His body rewired how he runs in order to avoid pain.
Being that Durant is an incredible athlete and his legs are so strong, he can compensate using multiple muscle groups in his lower leg and he can even use the same muscles in a different manner in order not to feel pain. But this also changed how force and pressure went through his Achilles tendon. When he jumped and ran, the force on his Achilles was coming from different directions that it wasn’t used to absorbing.
Compensation patterns can develop in anyone — from elite athletes to weekend warriors. The problem with compensation is that you are unable to realize you are doing it until it is too late. You will start to feel pain gradually, or you could have a traumatic event such as Durant. Your body will continue to compensate as long as your muscles can handle it but eventually it will fail, just as it did for Durant in Game 5.
Last year, when Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz returned to play after an ACL tear but then fractured his back, it was due to not fully being rehabbed from the ACL tear. He was not moving well, and his compensation patterns were easily visible on tapes; he was using his back to overcompensate for lack of strength in his leg and core.
There is no way to tell how long your body can sustain the compensation. Sometimes it can compensate for weeks, months and even years.
For Durant it took only four weeks for his body to be unable to handle the compensation patterns and his Achilles ruptured. Instead of taking the time to allow the injury to heal properly, he pushed himself too hard and ultimately took himself out of the game for the entire next season. Now, hopefully, he will take the time to allow this new injury to heal properly, so he won’t develop anymore compensation patterns.