10/23/2012 12:56 pm ET Updated Dec 23, 2012

Amar'e Stoudemire's Popliteal Cyst


Amar'e Stoudemire, New York Knicks Center-Forward, may actually be fortunate to have suffered a ruptured popliteal cyst this week, though it will keep him out of action for at least two to three weeks. What is more worrisome than this new wrinkle is whether any of the knee diagnoses Stoudemire has dealt with in the past are more of an issue than the Knicks are aware of or are letting on. In addition, there is the bone contusion (bruise) Stoudemire reportedly sustained on October 10th. With the burst cyst, Stoudemire will get some needed rest to allow the contusion to heal and the medical team will undoubtedly be working to figure out the bigger picture. It is this more complete understanding that will determine how quickly Stoudemire returns to action and how robust his knee will be. That is the Knicks 100 million dollar question.

What is a popliteal cyst?

Also known as a Bakers cyst, a popliteal cyst is a collection of joint fluid that escapes into the back of the knee through a bursa or a rupture of the synovial membrane that surrounds the joint. Bakers cysts are usually located at or below the joint line and are generally visible and palpable in the region of the crease at the back of the knee, which is known as the popliteal fossa.

What leads to the cyst forming?

In adults, popliteal cysts are generally associated with other pathologies within the joint. As a result, procedures to simply aspirate (drain) or remove these cysts have poor long-term outcomes due to recurrence.

The most common underlying issues include meniscal (fibrocartilage) tears and chondral lesions. The former are generally in the posterior horn (rear portion) of the medial (inner) meniscus. Chondral lesions refer to a loss of the articular cartilage also known as hyaline cartilage that lines the ends of most bones where they form joints. Stoudemire has a history of chondral problems in his left knee, and it was for this reason that he underwent the dreaded mircrofracture surgery in 2005. Though he returned to form the following season, most knees with a history of articular (joint) cartilage damage have a shelf-life. Is Stoudemire's knee reaching its competitive expiration date? It didn't seem so when the pre-season got underway.

What happens when a popliteal cyst bursts?

When a popliteal cyst bursts, the fluid moves downward into the calf. This may create some short-term swelling, bruising and discomfort in the area. There is no cause for alarm, though symptoms mimic those of a blood clot.

The fact that Stoudemire's cyst burst likely alleviated his popliteal pain and swelling and will both buy him time and help him avoid arthroscopic procedures that might have been considered to address the cyst itself. However, if there was an underlying cause, what was it?

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