NFL Injury Series- Hamstrings

Reviewing the hamstring strain, severity, and rehabilitation.

Today’s post will look at the all too common hamstring strain. This is an injury even the best conditioned athlete can sustain. This article will not focus on one specific player, but rather educate and inform what the hamstrings are, how they operate, why they’re injured, and prevention.

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Credit: myprotein.com

The hamstrings are made up of 3 muscles in the back of the thigh consisting of the biceps femoris on the outside and the semimembranosis and semitendonosis on the inside. Together these three muscles attach to parts of the upper femur and bottom of the hip which is called the ischial tuberosity . This is the bony part that everyone sits on when they are in a chair. At the other end, they connect to the top of the tibia and fibula, which is the lower leg bones. Due to the muscles crossing over two joints, they have different functions. Together, these muscles allow the leg to extend and drive the body forward, along with bending the knee. During running and blocking, these muscles cycle through the process of shortening and lengthening at regular intervals depending on the position of the leg.

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Credit: livestrong.com

To help you envision the hamstring functioning, picture a sprinting athlete. Typically, one foot is in contact with the ground, the other in the air. During the foot that is in contact with the ground, the hamstrings with other muscles assist in extending the thigh to assist in moving the body forward. As the body moves forward and begins to push off, the other leg begins the process towards beginning to make contact with the ground. Once the original leg finishes pushing off, the knee begins to bend to assist in clearing the foot to bring the leg forward. Even during the portion where the leg makes contact with the ground, the hamstring is loading back up and eccentrically contracting which means that it is accepting a load while lengthening, which is the most taxing type of muscle contraction. When the foot makes contact with the ground is where most hamstring injuries can occur which is why you see most players stop quickly due to the sudden nature of the injury. While the hamstring does sound confusing, it can be, but know that without them, you’re not doing much walking without them

During times of injury, the muscle can be overworked, overstretched, or fatigued, leading to part of the muscle to become injured. Depending on the severity and location can dictate the recovery time. A strain is due to the injury to the muscle or the muscle bone attachment. Grade 1 tears are the least severe in which a small portion of the muscle tears during excessive activity. This can heal up rather quickly but several days of rest, stretching, and light exercise can remedy the muscle.

Grade 2 hamstring tear is where at a moderate portion of the muscle tears with a greater force, leading the player to limp and be unable to properly use the affected leg as intended. Typically, there is greater bruising and swelling with initial difficulty placing weight, keeping the player off it for some time. Bruising, poor functional control, and tenderness may occur during this time which could cause the athlete to miss several weeks before they are back to playing shape.

Grade 3 hamstring tear is where the muscle nearly or completely tears. It can also pull a chunk of the bone away from the bony attachment, most likely at the ischial tuberosity, known as an avulsion. This is due to this area being the anchor point, meaning the harder the muscle contracts, the harder it pulls on the anchor point, leading to eventual overload. At this level of injury, the muscle is quite weak and function is no longer normal. With this injury, the athlete is in danger of missing significant time or can be potentially season ending. Recovery time with surgery can be anywhere from 3-6 months with some resources stating closer to 8 months.

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Credit: physioprescription.com

These types of injuries occur when an athlete suddenly tries to decelerate and change direction, hurdling a player, or trying to push their body faster and faster. This can also occur during blocking, trying to maintain their ground as their being pushed forward and backwards, eventually the muscle gives out and the player becomes injured as a result. There are countless ways for the hamstring to be injured, these are just several of the more common mechanisms of injury.

While the injury is not fully preventable, there are certain steps that can be taken to reduce the incidence. Some preventable measures that can be taken is ensuring proper hydration, conditioning, stretching, and strengthening. Some things that can’t be controlled is previous hamstring injury and increased age. The best method to treat an injury is to prevent. However, I would be hard pressed to find an athlete that has not sustained some sort of hamstring injury during the course of their athletic endeavors.

As Bills fan, we have already seen several players deal with hamstring injuries this season with varying degrees of severity. As a PT, I am not concerned about the long term management of the injuries. I know these players need time to rest, recover, and not to rush back. I would expect to see these injuries increase as the season wears on and the bodies begin to break down. So far, only Matt Milano has been slowed up by hamstring strains and has been brought along slow so far in training camp after re-injuring in OTA’s.

Continue to check back for the latest Bills news and injury updates. Follow on Twitter @BangedUpBills, on Facebook at Banged Up Bills and on reddit at u/BangedUpBills. As always, thank you and GO BILLS!!

NFL Injury Series- Contusions

Reviewing what contusions are, severities, and recovery times.

Today’s post will consist of several terms that come up often but aren’t well defined. My goal is to identify the rest of the terms and continue to further the knowledge base. There are many terms for the same problem or based on location, which define how it is described.

First up is the common contusion. A contusion is defined as a blow to an area that damages the small blood vessels and connective tissue in the area. This can be caused by getting hit hard or falling the ground which if severe enough can impact function. While everyone has dealt with a bruise at some point or another, not everyone gets hit by a 250 lb linebacker going at full speed.

When the contusion occurs, the blood vessels do burst and the discoloration is the result of the burst blood vessels releasing blood, rising up to the surface, then slowly reabsorbed by the body. This is why a bruise fades over time. The more severe the contusion, the more impact it can have. While nothing has been torn, the connective tissue of the muscles and other tissues including fat and skin are still impacted. The tissues of the body are quite pliable and if damaged, will respond to pain as any other portion of the body, except brain tissue. Contusions vary in recovery times to no time missed to several weeks based on location and severity.

Contusions, if severe enough can cause compartment syndrome in the area. This occurs when swelling becomes excessive and pushes on the connective tissues surrounding the muscles. If not managed quickly, the excessive pressure can begin to kill the muscle, leading to permanent damage.

Various types of contusions include hip pointer, nerve contusion, stingers, and bone bruises. Hip pointer injuries are to the bony portion of the hip known as the iliac crest. This is right above the waist line and are common due to the location players fall to the ground or are tackled in the area. This area is also where the abdominal wall attaches to which limits trunk motion and the hip abductors connect right below the area, which allow for a player to run and perform lateral movements. These can take 1-3 weeks to recover based on severity of the injury.

Nerve contusions, such as what Shaq Lawson dealt with last season, is when bruising occurs to a nerve. In most cases in the body, the nerve is well insulated and protected from injury. However, in certain cases, these nerves sometimes exit the body temporarily and are exposed. Cases include the ulnar nerve that exits temporarily near the elbow and the peroneal nerve which is on the outside portion of the knee near the fibula. If you’ve ever hit your funny bone, that’s your ulnar nerve screaming at you. In Lawson’s case, he hit the peroneal nerve which causes pain and weakness to the area. These injuries can resolve relatively quickly, but are quite painful and may take some time to rehab from to ensure proper movement. Once again, depending on the location and severity determines recovery time.

Stingers are another type of nerve injury that can be incredibly painful, but can quickly resolved if managed correctly. Stingers occur when a player gets tackled violently and the shoulder is pushed in one direction and the head in the opposite, leading to traction on cervical or neck nerves. Compressive forces can also cause similar symptoms, such as a direct head blow during a poor tackle or when driven into the ground. Pain is typically felt in the neck and shoulder region, with pain also produced sometimes all the way down the arm causing pain, weakness, and numbness. Due to how the nerves connect all back to the spinal cord and brain, this is why pain can travel down the arm despite the injury occurring in a different area. These injuries can resolve with rest and proper stretching, but is not something that can be rushed.

Finally, bone bruises complete this article. Bone bruises are actually a type of fracture that is less severe than a true bone fracture that we all think of. Keeping it brief, there are 3 types of bone bruises: Sub-periosteal hematoma, inter-osseous bruising, and sub-chondral lesion.

Sub-periosteal hematoma occurs when a direct high force trauma occurs and blood forms under the periosteum, which is a membrane that covers the outside of the bone. Inter-osseous bruising occurs when the bone marrow of the bone becomes damaged, specifically the blood supply. This occurs as the result of a repetitive high compressive forces on the bone, such as excessive running or jumping. These are seen more common in the knees and ankles.

Sub-chondral lesions occur when the cartilage layer of the bone becomes damaged. This area is found at the end of the bone and is the part that articulates with another bone. An extreme crushing force or rotational/shearing force may also cause this, commonly seen in injuries such as ACL tears. ACL tears typically not isolated, but MCL damage, meniscus damage, and even a sub-chondral lesion due to the forces that occur on the joint during the injury also occur.

Recovery times are difficult to manage with mild bone bruises recover in several weeks with more severe instances can be months. It really is specific to each person and how the injury was sustained. I wish I could give a more specific timeline for these recoveries but some players respond quickly and others such as Sam Bradford could take several weeks and leave uncertainty regarding their availability for future games.

These injuries happen far too often and are a part of football. While padding, playing surfaces, and proper tackling can reduce incidence of injury; these are the types of injuries that come with playing football. Most of these injuries can be managed conservatively with rest, icing, stretching, and padding. These are injuries that do not keep players out for extended time, but can be injuries that knock out players during key games.

Continue to check back for regular updates and further in depth analysis of the latest Bills injuries. Follow on Twitter @BangedUpBills, on Facebook at Banged Up Bills and at http://www.bangedupbills.com. As always, thank you and GO BILLS!!

NFL Injury Series- Sprains

An overview of general sprains, severity, and recovery times

As we continue to delve into common injuries seen around the NFL, today’s post will consist of an overview of general sprains. Sprains are very similar to strains, but differ in function and location. Sprains are an injury to a ligament or multiple ligaments based on location. Ligaments are found all over the body and provide connections between bones to create a joint. When an injury occurs to the area, instability, pain, and swelling occurs based on severity.

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Credit: therapydiadenver.com

Grade 1 sprains are when the ligament is stretched minimally and minor swelling/pain occurs. This can cause some players to miss time based on location and position, but typically can be managed conservatively in order to return to prior level of function. These types of injuries are week-to-week and can be played through if absolutely required, though increased risk of injury occurs. X-rays may be performed to ensure no fractures have occurred but are usually diagnosed through physical examination.

Grade 2 sprains are when the ligament is partially torn and moderate swelling/pain occur. These types of sprains typically keep players out for some time and cause moderate loss of function. A conservative expectation for a Grade 2 sprain could be anywhere from 4-6 weeks, though could vary based on location. At this time, an X-ray is performed to rule out any fractures. An MRI is performed to support physical examination and determine extent of damage.

Grade 3 sprains typically involve near or complete tearing of the ligament leading to significant loss of function and possible season ending surgery based on location of area. At this point, the ligament is classified more of a tear than a sprain which is why you do not see this as a Grade 3 sprain. Typically, ACL, PCL, and severe MCL tears can be categorized as such along with AC joint sprains. Ankles, shoulders, and wrists are also common areas for complex ligament damage to occur. It is common to see other structures become damaged as the result of a severe sprain/tear. MRI’s are performed to determine severity of tear and to assess for any injuries missed by physical examination or initial swelling.

In most cases, a sprain can be due to an overload to the joint as a direct blow, violent twisting/pivoting, or excessive tension on the ligament. As with all other materials in the body and in nature, everything has a breaking point. Injuries such as these can be reduced but not totally prevented. Preventative measures include playing on forgiving surfaces such as grass which reduce the friction and prevent cleats from sticking in the surface. Proper strengthening to the area and proprioceptive exercises which include body awareness activities help keep the body from overloading the joint. Bracing and taping may also give support to an area if there is a high risk for injury or prior instability. Taped wrists, knee braces on lineman, and ankles braces assist in limiting excessive range of motion, reducing the risk.

Continue to check back regarding updates on Bills news and general injuries in the coming days. While it is impossible to review every injury, this is merely a guide to assist you in understanding the severity and expected timeline upon injury. Follow on Twitter @BangedUpBills and at http://www.bangedupbills. As always, thank you and GO BILLS!!

NFL Injury Series- Muscle Strain

An overview of general muscle strains, grade severities, and recovery times.

The Buffalo Bills training camp continues to roll right along with no major injuries to report. The only reported injuries so far is TE Nick O’Leary who suffered an ankle injury which kept him out of practice for a short time but did not appear to be anything serious as he was able to return to full practice after several days rest. TE Logan Thomas was limited in practice but no further updates have been released regarding his current injury.

As we continue with the NFL injury series, today’s post will consist of identifying several terms used to describe injuries and educate on how to differentiate on what is being reported. I have used many of these terms before and have done my best to describe them, but I believe they are worthy of their own article. Today’s overviews will consist of the common muscle strain.

A muscle strain can occur in virtually any muscle within the body if the muscle is suddenly overworked, stretched, or fatigued to the point where the muscle becomes injured. A strain is classified as a strain due to an injury to the muscle itself or the muscle bone attachment which is called the tendon. There are varying grades of muscle strains which can progress up to a muscle tear, avulsion fracture, or rupture.

Grade 1 muscle strains are relatively minor and is when a small portion of the muscle is torn; function may be limited, but is typically not serious and can heal up relatively quickly with proper management. This usually consists of stretching, icing, anti-inflammatory medications, and light strengthening exercises to restore proper movement. With effective management, this can be a day-to-day injury with some lasting up to a week or two. Most of these injuries are able to be played through with proper rehab and rest.

Grade 2 muscle strains are where a moderate portion of the muscle is torn which is typically associated with bruising, swelling, and partial loss of function which is demonstrated as difficulty performing the muscle movement and is typically limited secondary to pain. Rehab management will consist of generally the same procedures as Grade 1, but will require a longer duration to recover. I can not make a blanket statement and state that a Grade 2 muscle strain will take “X” number of weeks to heal up. It is typically more than week-to-week, but based on location and job duties of the position may dictate how long the player is out.

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Credit: eorthopod.com

If a Grade 1 or 2 muscle strain occurs close to the tendon attachment, if not healed up correctly or chronically injured/overused, the muscle or tendon may develop into a tendinitis based on healing. The suffix “-itis” is Latin for inflammation, which indicates that the tendon is irritated and may become painful over time. Most muscle/tendon fibers have consistent, linear striations, such as in a nice cut of beef or in the picture above. When the tendon does not heal correctly, the connective tissue heals in an uneven pattern as seen in the picture below. This does not allow for effective contraction of the tendon, leading to increased pain, weakness, and loss of function. This could lead to tendonosis which is the chronic form of tendinitis and becomes even more difficult to treat. Eventually, this can lead to a higher risk of rupture in the tendon later but is not a requirement for a rupture to occur.

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Credit: mendmeshop.com

However, when a severe muscle strain occurs, this is classified as Grade 3. This is where most of the muscle is torn, there is typically significant damage and surgery is possibly required to repair the structural damage. There is significant swelling, bruising, and pain to the area due to the sudden and forceful nature of the injury. The muscle no longer is able to function as intended and pain limits the possibility to attempt. At this point, several other injuries may have occurred including an avulsion fracture or ruptures. If an avulsion fracture or rupture has not occurred, surgery still many be indicated to assist the muscle in healing correctly.

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Credit: physicaltherapyct.com

In the case of an avulsion fracture, the tendon that attaches the muscle to the bone and acts as the anchor pulls away from the attachment point and takes a chunk of the bone with it. While this injury is uncommon, it still does happen. Surgery is sometimes indicated to reattach the bone to the original area and requires extended time missed, requiring the body to build up toleration to the muscle pulling on the attachment point without re-injuring the area.

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Credit: tylerfootclinic.com

Finally, a tendon rupture is when the tendon tears away from the attachment point but does not take a piece of bone with it. This is commonly seen in biceps and Achilles’ injuries, among other areas. If this injury occurs, the player may feel a pop with immediate loss of function. The muscle may act like a bungee cord and rebound violently and become balled up, leading to a deformity. These types of injuries also require surgery and cause a player to miss extended time due to the requirements of the muscle contraction and the actions of the muscle. As there are a variety of potential tendon ruptures and recovery times, it is difficult to state a general timeline without having specific information.

This is just a brief overview of the muscle strain and how to understand the various nuances of the wording and injury. Sometimes injuries such as calf and hamstring strains can appear to follow a player for their career or never fully heal without significant rest. The best thing that a player can do is hydrate well, stretch effectively, strengthen properly, and listen to their bodies. While the NFL is a tough sport, pain is expected, but trying to play through an injury may only worsen it and cause further complications down the line.

This completes another article in the NFL injury series as we prepare for pre-season games and the regular season. There is much more to come regarding the common injuries we will inevitably see over the next several weeks. Continue to check back for posts regarding other general injuries and broaden your knowledge base. Follow on Twitter @BangedUpBills and at http://www.bangedupbills.com. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!

History of the ACL Reconstruction

Analyzing the history of the ACL injury including high level athletes who were able to succeed without an ACL and potential complications later in life.

Welcome back to Banged Up Bills! Today’s post will take us back in time to the 1970’s and 80’s, before the Bills reached untold greatness and the legends of Orchard Park were coming into their own. Looking back to 1986, RB Thurman Thomas of the Oklahoma State Cowboys partially tore his left ACL in a pickup basketball game in the off-season, placing his junior season into question. Fortunately, despite recovering and achieving All-American status his senior year, the known history of this partially torn ACL ultimately caused his draft stock to slip, allowing the Bills to steal the future HOF in the 2nd round of 1988. The article above mentions that he suffered the ACL injury and had arthroscopic surgery to assess the damage, but the ACL was ultimately never reconstructed at the time. Recently, it was revealed on Twitter that Thomas successfully played his entire career with a partially torn ACL; according to him, 85%.

While some said he was a GOAT for playing with an injury of that magnitude, it is more astonishing that he was able to perform at such a high level despite knowing what we know now about ACL tears. Today’s post will explore the history of ACL repair, why Thomas most likely did not have the surgery, other NFL players who were able to succeed without an ACL, and potential complications they may have today as a result.

Looking at a brief history of the ACL injury, these types of maladies have been explored for centuries, going back to ancient times when the true gladiators battled against each other. When injuries such as the ACL tear occurred, doctors such as Galen would be able to further explore the inner workings of the knee through gashes suffered in battle and identify these complaints, though surgical intervention was centuries away. Fast forward to the late 1800’s, further examination and surgical intervention came into vogue with the advent of X-ray and a better understanding of the function of the ACL.

However, it would still take nearly 100 years to develop effective treatment of the ACL to what it is known today. In the 1970’s, doctors were aware that the ACL had an impact on knee function but testing for injury and surgical intervention were still in its infancy which led to many methods of repair with a wide variety of overall poor outcomes. Initial surgeries would open the knee up with rather large incisions and attempt to repair the knee with a variety of material including hamstring, patellar, cadaver, and synthetic grafts.

Surgical techniques were improved in the 1980’s with the use of arthroscopy, however, this time period also saw high rates of materials failure and complications several years after a repair due to synthetic grafts. There was also not a general consensus on the best method to repair the damaged ligament. In addition, there was published research arguing that nonsurgical interventions was just as effective as surgery in outcome scores with regards to function, though they did note that surgical repairs led to a more stable knee in comparison.

Attempts were made to identify a consistent rehab plan for the ACL as surgery techniques improved. Regrettably, the rehab plans were determined later to hinder the patient recovery and led to greater failure rates after returning to sport. Several pearls from the above mentioned ACL rehab plan that would not be considered today include:

  • casting and immobilization of the surgically repaired leg for 6-8 weeks
  • immobilization between 30-60 degrees in flexion
  • either toe touch weight-bearing or no weight-bearing allowed during this time frame

Most of these interventions were thought to preserve the integrity of the ligament by limiting movement with the ACL on slack with the knee in a flexed position. The thought was a fully extended knee placed undue stress on the repair and could cause premature rupture in weight-bearing.

Research later found patients that were non-compliant with their rehab protocol actually had better outcomes than those who followed the rehab precisely. Those that were non-compliant were removing their casts and beginning movement/strengthening sooner than advised but were found to be able to return to full function with less pain and overall greater satisfaction which forced the medical community to reevaluate the protocols.

As there was so many varieties of materials for repair, no gold standard for repair technique, and a poor understanding on proper rehabilitation, its no wonder that Thurman Thomas avoided having the surgery all together. He would most likely been worse off having the surgery than playing without a repair. I believe that with all the uncertainty of surgery methods/outcomes, the experience with ACL repairs of the treating orthopedic surgeon, and his potential career prospects, reconstruction was not performed. Fortunately, his knee was able to withstand the demands required of his position with protective bracing throughout his career despite the tear.

Thomas was not the only one that declined surgery and managed to play with an ACL deficient knee through their career. HOF QB John Elway tore his ACL in high school but was still able to recover without surgery and have a long career in the NFL. It is noted that this was his non-plant leg which reduced the incidence of pivoting which may have allowed him to avoid further issues. It has also been reported that Yankees great OF Mickey Mantle tore his ACL during his rookie season and was able to play his entire career without an ACL. I believe that Yankee fans are unanimous with how great he was despite his injuries. As I stated in my previous article, it is possible to live a normal life without an ACL, though still very difficult to play at a high level without one. Thomas, Elway, Mantle, and a more recent example of WR Hines Ward of the Steelers are several exceptions.

The only consistency that I see is that all of these players were relatively young; >20 years when they tore and may have still been growing into themselves, which allowed their bodies to adapt and compensate with the deficiency. However, pediatric ACL tears still benefit from surgical intervention with nonoperative management and potentially causes problems later in life which refutes the statement above regarding youth ACL tears.

Research supports the use of surgical intervention with some variances in techniques and rehab but generally, surgery is the gold standard in order to return to full ability. We have seen the power to return to sport after ACL reconstruction with an 82-95% success rate. Through rigorous studies, the medical community has also found that proper reconstruction has reduced future injuries and complications significantly. These included future meniscus tears, corresponding ligament injuries, and arthritis. In Thurman Thomas’ case, it is unknown whether he has had any further complications, though several reports in 2001 indicate that he tore the right ACL which ended his NFL career in Miami.

With these complications arising from avoiding ACL surgery as several studies supported in the 1980’s, eventually the ACL injury could have degraded the knee to where loss of function was significant and few interventions available to provide relief once it got to that stage. Knee replacements are available which restore function and movement, but those are typically reserved for those patients that are much older with ages into 50+ and have reduced their athletic activities. People in their 20’s-30’s are not ideal for a knee replacement and should not be considered unless certain exceptions arise which are typically not sport related. If the players mentioned above have not already had a knee replacement due to the punishment of the sport, they are most likely considering the possibility.

As a whole, ACL reconstruction continues to be the primary intervention to allow athletes to return to sport. There are doctors that have begun to swing the other way again, rejecting surgery in the case of Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill when he partially tore his ACL late in the 2016 season. The corresponding rehab was ultimately unsuccessful as he re-injured his knee in training camp the next year. Eventually there will be interventions which reduce the healing time in the surgically repaired knee or there may be effective non-surgical interventions. It took over 20 years to really establish a consistency for ACL repair; it may take even longer to identify interventions that don’t involve surgery.

I found this research to be fascinating as the history of medicine has changed so drastically over the years and its incredible to think that these previous methods were cutting edge at the time. Thankfully, studies and constant refinement of the process has allowed high level athletes return to full ability instead of potentially ending their careers. The quality of interventions will continue to improve with medical advances and maybe 30 years from now, we will be looking back and say “what were we thinking?” Until then, we will work with what we know best.

Continue to check back for the latest updates from @BangedUpBills on Twitter and at www.bangedupbills.com. I will be pumping out a lot of content with training camp coming up and as players begin to suffer injuries. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!

NFL Injury Series- ACL Tears

Complete analysis of the ACL injury and associated rehab including timelines for recovery.

Today’s article begins a series that precludes the start of training camp and will review the most commonly sustained season-ending injuries in the NFL. Objectives of this series are to help educate fellow fans on the severity of each injury and timelines for recovery. Unfortunately, when these injuries occur, Banged Up Bills will have you covered. Nearly all of these injuries are season ending or become chronic if not managed properly. The first post will assess ACL injuries.

The ACL is a ligament that connects the tibia to the femur and runs medial to lateral or inside to outside, acting as a stabilizer in the knee to prevent the femur from shifting too far forward over the tibia during movement; it also assists in preventing hyperextension in the knee. When the knee is loaded during activity such as cutting and sudden stops, the ACL is designed to keeps the knee stable, but in the presence of injury, the ligament is overloaded which either stretches and partially tears or fully tears based on the activity. It is possible to live a normal lifestyle with an ACL deficient knee, but nearly impossible to resume a high level of play post ACL tear without reconstruction as an adult.

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Credit: kneesurgerysydney.com.au/acl-reconstruction/

Activities that cause the ACL to tear are direct blows such as a low block or a blow to the knee while the foot is planted. Non-contact typically happen when a player doesn’t land properly after jumping in the air, when they perform a sudden change in direction at a high speed, or when they attempt to quickly decelerate. Tears also occur with hyperflexion or hyperextension of the knee. In the event of ACL rupture, the knee buckles and there is usually immediate swelling, tenderness, loss of ROM, and pain. Risk factors include but are not limited to: sex, age, playing surface, level of play, biomechanical variances, previous injuries to the knee, equipment, and environmental conditions. Recent research has also shown that concussions can possibly increase the risk for injuries such as ACL due to slower reaction times.

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Credit: medline.gov

As with many injuries, players are not able to return to playing and require further evaluation once in the locker room. X-rays are taken to rule out fractures and special tests are performed including but not limited to: Lachman’s test, anterior drawer test, and pivot shift test. All of these tests rule assist in physically identifying that the ACL is damaged. Typically, when performing the Lachman’s or anterior drawer test, there will be increased laxity when moving the tibia in the opposite direction of the femur. There are 4 grades to determine ACL severity which grade out how much the tibia pulls out in relation to the femur. Grade 1 is <5 mm progressing in severity up to Grade 4 which is >15mm.

Another test that may be performed is a posterior drawer test. This is the opposite of anterior in that it tests for a PCL injury. The reason this is performed is due to the possibility of PCL injury instead leading the tibia to sag back which could initially mimic the laxity seen with the anterior drawer test. A pivot shift test mimics the injury mechanism of the ACL tear and will typically illicit pain and possible clunking which would signify a subluxation of the tibia. To confirm the ACL tear, MRI imaging will be performed once swelling is subsided. Otherwise, the excess fluid could occlude the view of the tear and make the imaging inconclusive.

Once the tear is confirmed and swelling has reduced, surgery is scheduled to repair the structural damage. Regrettably, the ligament cannot be repaired through simple means such as sewing it back together. The ligament has to be cleaned out and repaired through use of a graft. These grafts come from commonly the hamstring or the patellar tendon which are known as autografts or through the use of a cadaver also know as allograft. There are other options which include xenografts which come from animals and lastly, synthetic grafts made from carbon materials or Gore-Tex. While medical research has improved drastically, the preferred method still appears to be the autografts as this comes from within the patients body and have lower rates of failure. The surgery is performed by anatomically lining up the graft as the ACL would normally be in and screwed in to allow to heal to the bone.

Recovery from an ACL tear takes anywhere from 9-12 months to return to full, unrestricted activity. However, there may be concurrent damage sustained in the knee which could include meniscus tear, MCL/PCL/LCL tears, or cartilage damage which could lengthen recovery time. Once the surgery is completed, the first 2 weeks is spent allowing swelling and initial tissue healing to begin. Passive range of motion along with light strengthening of the surrounding muscles is performed. After several weeks have passed, range of motion is increased with emphasis placed on full extension or straightening of the knee which will allow the person to be able to walk fluidly through the gait cycle and fully bear weight.

As the range of motion increases, higher level strengthening activities may begin through the saggital plane which involves motion going forward/backward over the next 10 weeks. During this time, strengthening exercises are primarily composed of closed chain exercises. This means that the foot is in contact with the ground or other surface as the knee performs its movements. Open chain involved exercises that allow the lower limb to move freely which if performed too soon, may place excess torque on the repaired ligament which could cause potential failure if pushed excessively.

Once full ROM is re-established, balance exercises are incorporated to regain proprioception which allows a person to sense their joint and body in space. This awareness is crucial as if the athlete has a poor awareness where their body is at during movement, they are at a much greater risk for injury. After 3 months out, they may continue progressing to running exercises going forward, backwards, and slowly begin agility drills once fitted for an ACL brace. These braces are commonly used to prevent future ACL injuries by restricting rotary and hyperextension forces. The recovery timeline is so long due to the purpose of the ligament and its makeup. As stated before, a ligament attaches bone to bone which creates stability for the joint. Add in the stresses that the joint goes through during running, jumping, and cutting motions, proper healing is required so that the ligament can perform effectively. Lastly, ligaments unfortunately have poor blood supplies which slow down healing time unlike muscles or tendons which have a rich blood supply allowing those tissues to heal quicker.

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Credit: betterbraces.com

Once a patient has reached the 6 month plateau in recovery, they must meet certain minimum criteria to begin even considering returning to sport. They must:

  • demonstrate quadriceps and hamstring strength at least 80% that of the noninvolved leg
  • full motion
  • no recurring swelling
  • demonstrate stability both with physical testing and mobility
  • completing a running program

In higher level athletes, the running, jumping, agility set them apart from the general population and because of that, these athletes require further training in order to return to their respective sport. Athletes must be re-educated to safely land, cut and change direction, and essentially relearn how to use their reconstructed knee. Overall, 6 months is a considerable amount of time to heal properly which explains why this is a season ending injury. As the NFL season is only 6 months long, even with the best rehab, it wouldn’t be realistic to return.

However, why if a person is able to get to full recovery after 6 months, why are they out longer than that? Research has shown that the risk for re-injury decreases by over half each month up to 9 months before returning to sport. Once a player does return from an ACL repair, they are at a much higher risk to re-injure with rates up to 20-30% for up to two years after injury. These are the reasons why it takes nearly a year to return to full ability prior to the injury. Overall, ACL reconstruction success rates today are between 82-95%, a significant increase from 50/50% success in the 70’s & 80’s.

Many high level players can and do return to full abilities with proper rehab and training. It is terrible to see a player put all that hard work and training into getting ready for a season for it to all end with an injury such as this, but until medical science improves the healing process so much that players can shorten that 6 month window for healing, we are stuck with the current system. As a fan, I am praying that the Bills continue to avoid major injuries such as this as they were fortunate last season.

This wraps up the first article in the sports injury series. Continue to check back at Banged Up Bills on Facebook and on Twitter @BangedUpBills for the latest articles. As always, thank you for reading and GO BILLS!!

A Hodgepodge of Contusions

Looking at what consists of a contusion, the various types, and severity associated with the injury.

Today’s post will consist of several remaining terms that come up often but aren’t well defined. My goal is to identify the rest of the terms and continue to further the knowledge base. There are many terms for the same problem or based on location, which define how it is described.

First up is the common contusion. A contusion is defined as a blow to an area that damages the small blood vessels and connective tissue in the area. This can be caused by getting hit hard or falling the ground which if severe enough can impact function. While everyone has dealt with a bruise at some point or another, not everyone gets hit by a 250 lb linebacker going at full speed.

When the contusion occurs, the blood vessels do burst and the discoloration is the result of the burst blood vessels releasing blood, rising up to the surface, then slowly reabsorbed by the body. This is why a bruise fades over time. The more severe the contusion, the more impact it can have. While nothing has been torn, the connective tissue of the muscles and other tissues including fat and skin are still impacted. The tissues of the body are quite pliable and if damaged, will respond to pain as any other portion of the body, except brain tissue. Contusions, if severe enough can cause compartment syndrome in the area. This occurs when swelling becomes excessive and pushes on the connective tissues surrounding the muscles. If not managed quickly, the excessive pressure can begin to kill the muscle, leading to permanent damage.

Various types of contusions include hip pointer, nerve contusion, stingers, and bone bruises. Hip pointer injuries are to the bony portion of the hip known as the iliac crest. This is right above the waist line and are common due to the location players fall to the ground or are tackled in the area. This area is also where the abdominal wall attaches to which limits trunk motion and the hip abductors connect right below the area, which allow for a player to run and perform lateral movements.

Nerve contusions, such as what Shaq Lawson dealt with, is when bruising occurs to a nerve. In most cases in the body, the nerve is well insulated and protected from injury. However, in certain cases, these nerves sometimes exit the body temporarily and are exposed. Cases include the ulnar nerve that exits temporarily near the elbow and the peroneal nerve which is on the outside portion of the knee near the fibula. If you’ve ever hit your funny bone, that’s your ulnar nerve screaming at you. In Lawson’s case, he hit the peroneal nerve which causes pain and weakness to the area. These injuries can resolve relatively quickly, but are quite painful and may take some time to rehab from to ensure proper movement.

Stingers are another type of nerve injury that can be incredibly painful, but can quickly resolved if managed correctly. Stingers occur when a player gets tackled violently and the shoulder is pushed in one direction and the head in the opposite, leading to traction on cervical or neck nerves. Compressive forces can also cause similar symptoms, such as a direct head blow during a poor tackle or when driven into the ground. Pain is typically felt in the neck and shoulder region, with pain also produced sometimes all the way down the arm causing pain, weakness, and numbness. Due to how the nerves connect all back to the spinal cord and brain, this is why pain can travel down the arm despite the injury occurring in a different area. These injuries can resolve with rest and proper stretching, but is not something that can be rushed.

Finally, bone bruises complete this article. Bone bruises are actually a type of fracture that is less severe than a true bone fracture that we all think of. Keeping it brief, there are 3 types of bone bruises: Sub-periosteal hematoma, inter-osseous bruising, and sub-chondral lesion.

Sub-periosteal hematoma occurs when a direct high force trauma occurs and blood forms under the periosteum, which is a membrane that covers the outside of the bone. Inter-osseous bruising occurs when the bone marrow of the bone becomes damaged, specifically the blood supply. This occurs as the result of a repetitive high compressive forces on the bone, such as excessive running or jumping. These are seen more common in the knees and ankles.

Sub-chondral lesions occur when the cartilage layer of the bone becomes damaged. This area is found at the end of the bone and is the part that articulates with another bone. An extreme crushing force or rotational/shearing force may also cause this, commonly seen in injuries such as ACL tears. ACL tears typically not isolated, but MCL damage, meniscus damage, and even a sub-chondral lesion due to the forces that occur on the joint during the injury also occur.

This wraps up the breakdown of injuries that are commonly reported, but are not fully known. These injuries happen far too often and are a part of football. While padding, playing surfaces, and proper tackling can reduce incidence of injury; these are the types of injuries that come with playing football. Most of these injuries can be managed conservatively with rest, icing, stretching, and padding. These are injuries that do not keep players out for extended time, but can be injuries that knock out players during key games.

What is most important is that the Bills continue to keep injuries to a minimum. They have suffered injuries just as any other team in the NFL, but have avoided the season ending, season altering injuries thus far. Continue to check back for regular updates and further in depth analysis of the latest Bills injuries. Thank you and GO BILLS!!