Examining John John’s Mystery Knee Surgery

by Michael Ciaramella May 13, 2021 3 min read

I was confused by John Florence’s surprise surgery announcementthis morning. 

Not so much that he’d gone under the knife (I figured there was a 50/50 chance of that with the info at hand), but because 1. He didn’t disclose the type of injury he’d suffered and 2. He believes he’ll be well enough to surf in the Olympics.

Here’s the post again, for reference:

The Tokyo Games are set to begin in late-July, which is a mere two-and-a-half months away. I’ve never heard of someone getting knee surgery and being able to surf competitively in fewer than four months. 

But I’m not a doctor. And the Florence camp ain’t talking. Which is why I decided to call a few medical professionals to see if there’s a form of knee surgery that fits John’s expedited timeline.

Dr Warren Kramer could not speak to us for this piece (shoutout HIPAA act), but he’s the man behind John John’s surgery. Kramer is surfing’s go-to knee guy and has worked on Kelly, Kolohe, and pretty much every other surfer who has found themselves hobbling up the beach. Photo: Kramer Orthopedics

My first response came from a WSL superfan by day, physical therapist by night.

“John’s immobilizer would indicate that it was a ligament or meniscus, but to possibly be back in time for Olympics pretty much eliminates it being one of those. The major ligaments normally require eight weeks of PT following reconstruction just to get back to normal function (for the everyday joe) and a minimum of four months for return to sport.

“Meniscus repair is even worse. That’s completely non-weight-bearing for eight weeks and then the recovery is longer than most ligament reconstructions. 

“Meniscectomy (that’s when they just shave off the tear in the meniscus…done arthroscopically) would be easier and much quicker to rebound from, but I’ve never seen them put someone in an immobilizer following that surgery. 

“My bet would be meniscus repair, though. He’s gonna be feeling it once he gets back in the water but he doesn’t have a big risk of rupturing anything. After the non-weight-bearing period passes he’ll be going full-force.”

meniscus tear
CC: Everyone at Vans Stab High presented by Monster Energy.

Source two, a registered nurse with a severe surf obsession, had a similar idea. 

“ACL and MCL surgery is minimum four months out of the water, six for anything that we’d consider high-performance. So we can pretty much write those off as possibilities. The only thing I can think of is a slight meniscus tear, but it’s not my area of expertise.”

Source three, an ER doctor who is well acquainted with the tube (not to mention recent CT happenings), all but slammed the door shut. 

“I was surprised that John didn’t divulge more about his injury this time. When he tore his right ACL [both times], he was really up front about what happened and what his course of action was going to be. This time, he said he was going to share the details when he had them but then went straight to posting about the surgery, with no mention of what was actually repaired. 

“Now this is obviously speculation, but given the timeline John’s presented for returning to competition, my only guess is that John had a small meniscus tear and had some of it scraped away. It’s possible he had a bit of cartilage floating around in there that was bothering him, so they decided to take it out.”

This is what we suspect was performed on John’s knee.

The meniscus, in layman’s terms, is the cushiony substance between your shinbone and thighbone. It’s made of cartilage and helps absorb impact so that the bones don’t collide with one another. A torn meniscus occurs when there’s a traumatic twisting or hyper-extending of the knee joint. This could happen in a variety of surfing situations, like, say, hitting a four-foot end section at Main Break Margaret River.

Assuming this is the injury John suffered, he seems to have gotten off lucky. A short recovery period of 6-8 weeks should allow him to surf the Olympics and potentially even qualify for the CT Top 5 and compete for the World Title at Lowers. While it’s criminally unjust that the world’s best surfer is sidelined once again, it could have been a lot worse.

We’ll be tracking his progress closely and keeping you posted with any updates, and have the pom-poms ready for his return.

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