WASHINGTON — Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist underwent surgery Tuesday to repair a knee injury he suffered in a fall at his home Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Supreme Court said.
Doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center repaired a torn quadriceps tendon in the chief justice's right leg, the spokeswoman, Kathy Arberg, said. Rehnquist, 78, was "resting comfortably" and will begin physical therapy soon, Arberg said.
The court's nine justices are scheduled to meet for a conference today, and Rehnquist will participate, Arberg said. Their next scheduled oral argument session is Monday.
The quadriceps tendon connects the thigh muscles to the kneecap. If it is torn, the injured person cannot walk normally. The chief justice had been on crutches since the injury, previously described as a buildup of fluid in the knee.
"Generally, we consider it a painful injury," said Dr. Randall Wroble, a Columbus, Ohio, orthopedic surgeon who serves on the public relations committee of the American Orthopedic Society for Sports Medicine.
Wroble said the usual course of treatment after surgery calls for the patient to be placed in a stiff leg brace, which is loosened gradually as the knee recovers through physical therapy. Full healing takes six months, he said, adding that, in a person of Rehnquist's age, "any sort of major surgery takes longer to come back from."
That could mean limited mobility for Rehnquist through most of the rest of the current court term, which ends by early July.
Coincidentally, Rehnquist's injury is the same one President Clinton suffered in 1997, when he slipped on stairs while visiting the home of pro golfer Greg Norman in Florida.
Other than back problems, Rehnquist has had no visible health difficulties of late.