Don’t Rush Back from Injury

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Roethlisberger-sackIf you lead an active lifestyle, then you know that injuries are sometimes just a part of life.  Certain activities and sports are riskier than others from an injury standpoint, and if you participate in those then you also have to accept the fact that you may miss some time getting over an injury.  It can be a big disruption to your normal routine, but I can’t stress how important it is to take adequate time to let your injuries heal so that you don’t end up with a more severe injury or a lingering one that ultimately takes more time to heal than the initial injury.

Part of this mindset of trying to get back as fast as possible comes from what we see in mainstream sports.  Notable examples this year are Robert Griffin III, the QB for the Washington Redskins who partially tore his LCL towards the end of the NFL season.  He tried to return in the same game but wasn’t able to take more than a few snaps before he had to come back out.  He sat out one game and then returned as the starter only to re-injure the knee in the first half of their playoff game against the Seahawks.  Griffin stubbornly played over half the game with an obviously injured knee that limited his mobility, and then in the fourth quarter injured the knee again that ended his day.  He ended up needing a reconstructive surgery on the knee just a few days after the playoff game.  No one can say for certain, but there is a good chance he could have avoided a major surgery if he could have just taken a few weeks more to let it heal.

Another example from the NFL occurred this week with New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski.  He broke a bone in his forearm in mid-November and had surgery to place a plate and screws to stabilize the fracture.  He missed 5 games and then returned to play in the last game of the season.  Then, yesterday in the Patriots’ first playoff game, he re-broke the same bone and will need revision surgery to treat the fracture. It generally takes most bones 6-8 weeks to heal; if you weigh over 250 pounds and will be having men weighing over 300 pounds tackling you, the bone needs to be completely healed before you return to sport.

These NFL examples are extreme because these are highly trained athletes that are monitored by well-triained medical staffs and followed by respected orthopaedic surgeons.  Gronkowski just signed a 6 year, $54 million contract extension and Griffin III has a 4-year, $21 million rookie contract.  You can defnitely understand the motivation for both the players and the organizations to get back on the field as quickly as possible.  To get a chilling glimpse of this NFL mindset, read Dan Le Batard’s article about the NFL career of former Miami Dolphin Jason Taylor.

I see many high-school level athletes and their families in my practice who have this mentality of getting back to play as soon as possible at all costs.  While I understand the pressures of high school and collegiate sports today, I also see the bad things that can happen by not taking the proper amount of time to let an injury heal, whether it requires surgery or not.  Not only can you jeopardize your sports season with a second or repeat injury by trying to cut short a rehabilitation, but more importantly you can jeopardize the long term health of your musculoskeletal system.  As someone trained in sports medicine, I do everything in my power to get an athlete back to play as soon as is safely possible, but I also try to emphasize the big picture.  Sometimes, getting back for that game or tournament that feels supremely important right now may not be worth the risk.  I see many patients in my practice in their 30’s or early 40’s that have advanced degenerative changes in their knees from sports injuries that were ignored in their teens and early 20’s.

Follow Dr. Carter on twitter @samcartermd and on facebook.