Injuries and football go hand in hand. In the NFL, no game report is complete without a casualty list. Concussions and neck injuries are common, as are knee and shoulder injuries.
You may recall when Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had a high-profile neck injury, causing him to miss the entire 2011 season and have neck surgery twice. Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo had a similar injury in his lower back and had to miss the end of the 2013 season to have back surgery. Just this year, New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski returned from knee surgery to repair a torn ACL/MCL.
How are these players able to return from such serious injuries?
According to Dr. Gleiber, when it comes to professional players, sometimes it’s a bit more subjective for the doctor or the surgeon. “Whether you’re an Olympic skiing champion like Lindsey Vonn – who also underwent knee surgery – or a point guard for your high school basketball team, when it comes to recovery from an injury, everyone is an individual.” It’s important for patients to have realistic recovery expectations when receiving treatment for an injury.
Dr. Gleiber breaks down the common injuries on the field and realistic recovery time on the sidelines.
ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury. The ACL is one of four ligaments in the knee, connecting the bones of the upper and lower knee. An ACL injury is a tear in the ligament, ranging from mild to severe.
Recovery Time: Physical rehabilitation after ACL surgery may take several months to a year. The length of time until you can return to normal activities or sports is different for every person. It may range from 4 to 6 months.
MCL (medial collateral ligament) injury. An injury usually occurring after impact to the outside of the knee, causing the MCL to stretch or tear. The MC ligament attaches to the femur (thigh bone) and tibia (shinbone).
Recovery Time: A minor, or grade 1, MCL tear can take from a few days to a week and a half to heal sufficiently for you to return to normal activities, including sports. A grade 2 tear can take from two to four weeks to heal. A grade 3 tear usually takes from four to eight weeks to heal, unless it is associated with damage to the ACL, in which case the recovery time may be longer.
Meniscus tear. A meniscus is an object shaped like a crescent moon, such as the medial meniscus of the knee. The medial meniscus serves as a cartilage pad between the joints of the thigh and shin bones. Meniscus tears are most likely caused by twisting or turning abruptly, usually with the foot in place while the knee is bent.
Recovery Time: If knee arthroscopy is performed, the rehabilitation process balances swelling and healing. The goal is to return range of motion to the knee as soon as possible. Physical therapy is a common part of rehabilitation, and most therapists work with the orthopedic surgeon to return the patient to full function as soon as possible. Most patients return to mild routine activity occurs in less than six weeks.
Sprains. A sprain is an injury to a ligament, muscle or tendon surrounding a joint. An estimated 25,000 people get ankle sprains each day.
Recovery Time: Ankle sprains take an average of 6 weeks to heal but can take can up to 4 months, depending on the severity.
Hamstring strain. Hamstring injuries are tears to the tendons or large muscles at the back of the thighs. Unfortunately, hamstring strains are both common and painful. Runners, skaters, and football, soccer, baseball and basketball players suffer from hamstring strains.
Recovery Time: Patients should recover fully from a hamstring injury if they rest until it feels better. Recovery time may be days, weeks or months depending on the severity of the tear.
Hip pointer. Hip pointer injuries happen after impact to the hip bone. Hip pointers can cause excruciating pain, as well as bruising and bleeding to the abdominal muscles.
Recovery Time: The length of recovery depends on many factors such as your age, health, and if you have had a previous injury. Recovery time also depends on the severity of the injury. A mild injury may recover within a few weeks, whereas a severe injury may take 6 weeks or longer to recover.
Dislocation. An injury resulting from a fall or hit, causing the top of the arm bone to be forced out of the shoulder socket.
Recovery Time: A dislocated shoulder should heal within four to 12 weeks. Exactly how long the recovery time is depends on a number of factors, including the amount of structural damage to the muscles at the time of the dislocation, the age of the patient (younger patients heal faster) and the physical therapy regimen. Depending on the presence of a labral tear or other tissue injury, there may be a greater incidence of re-dislocation and additional time may be required until return to play. Once the healing process is over, the patient should have full range of motion, though some activities, such as sudden torque or deceleration on the shoulder, will still cause pain for up to a year.
AC (acromioclavicular) joint injury. The AC joint sits between part of the shoulder blade and collar bone. Damage is usually to one or both of the ligaments.
Recovery Time: Several techniques for treating an AC joint separation with surgery exist. Most of them involve reconstructing the ligaments. Pins or plates may be used to improve stability. After surgery, the patient will need to wear a sling for about four weeks. Six to eight weeks of physical therapy may also be needed to regain full motion. People who enjoy activities that involve shoulder strength or speed may not be able to do these things for up to six months.
For weekly updates on spine injuries in the NFL, see my weekly NFL injury roundup.