Talking Tendons

Ex-Piston Don Reid’s experience bodes well for Jerebko’s return

Jonas Jerebko received a supportive message from a former Piston who went through a similar injury.
Allen Einstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Among all the text messages and well-wishers that bombarded Jonas Jerebko in the hours after news spread that his Achilles tendon would require surgical repair and cost him at least a big chunk of the season, one stood out.

One should give Jerebko – and Pistons fans – genuine cause to believe the 23-year-old Swede can beat the estimates that his return is five to six months away and dispel fears that whenever his return happens he’ll be a lesser athlete than the one who crashed to the hardwood at American Airlines Arena in Miami on Tuesday night.

The message came from Don Reid, who suffered a similar injury in similar circumstances – a Pistons preseason game in Florida. For Reid, fondly recalled as “The Chief” who stuck with the Pistons as the last draft pick in 1995 and became a fan favorite for his hard-hat mentality, it happened in Tampa eight years ago. The expectation was that he’d miss the season. He was back working out on his own by the middle of January – 3½ months after suffering his injury. By the All-Star break a month after that, he was cleared for a full return to practice.

“I texted him and told him to get ready to get in the pool,” Reid laughed. “That’s where it all starts.”

It gets even better for Pistons fans in comparing Reid’s return to Jerebko’s course.

  • Reid’s injury was much more serious. While Jerebko’s Achilles was only partially torn – which makes the surgery and the rehabilitation less severe – Reid’s was completely torn. And torn in two places.

  • Technology has made the surgery less invasive. What used to require a 7- or 8-inch incision can now be accomplished with a cut of an inch or less, perhaps. The ability to gauge the “tension force” – effectively, how far to stretch the Achilles to reattach it – has been markedly improved.

  • Advances in rehabilitation have been even more remarkable. So much more is known than a decade ago. Movement is encouraged much earlier in the process, and that movement brings oxygen to the tendon, which prevents deterioration. The injury used to be casted for six weeks – then often recasted, with the foot at a different angle, for another six weeks. Essentially, that meant three months with little or no movement at all, forcing a much longer rehabilitation and recovery.

Jerebko’s surgery will be performed today. It won’t be very long after that when Arnie Kander will have him moving. He’ll be doing a tremendous amount of work in the pool. Even since Reid’s injury, pool therapy has come a long way, including the salts used in the pool and the jets – angles of spray and pressure, Herbal remedies, infrared lights and laser therapies are invoked. Pumps deliver necessary nutrients, including calcium and magnesium, directly to the tendon.

And as critical as all that stuff can be, Reid says there are two things that will be every bit as critical – and both of those bode well for Jerebko, too. One is a hunger to get back on the court. The other is the direction the therapy is given.

Reid was a willing student and he had what he considered the perfect trainer overseeing his recovery – Kander. He has little doubt that Jerebko, who was a guest at Reid’s wedding over the summer, will attack his rehab just as enthusiastically.

“He will be an eager student for Arnie,” Reid said. “It’s just the hunger he has for the game. He wants to play. I think he’ll be out there doing whatever he can as soon as possible. I got back quick, and that was even after I had a couple of complications. I couldn’t sit up for two weeks after the surgery because of a spinal tap leak, and there was other stuff holding me back at first, too.

“Arnie is exactly the guy you’d want helping you get back. He is the type of trainer that will let you do what you think your body can do, not just a set routine, like, ‘You should be doing this at four months.’ If you can do it before then, great. If not, then shut your body down.”

Not so long ago, conventional wisdom was that it took a full year to recover from an Achilles tendon tear. Don Reid didn’t just beat those odds, he lapped them. Cut from the same cloth, Jonas Jerebko, given the added benefits of advanced technology, has a chance to do the same and be in uniform before five pages fly off the calendar.