NFL – An Injury Guide



With the 2006 NFL season already underway, there will undoubtably be many injuries occurring throughout the season, some may be happening to your favorite players or teams. I offer up a basic behind the scenes look into the injury game, and hopefully clear up some question marks.

1. Knee Injuries: Most acute (meaning sudden onset, happened right now) knee injuries in football will usually be of the following kinds:

·        Ligament Sprain or tear – The three most likely in football

o       The dreaded ACL. Almost always ends up in a full tear and it is always season ending in a 15 week season. Although Jerry Rice did come back from his WAY early, only to fracture his patella, this was a direct result of coming back too soon.

o       The MCL Sprain – Can be very serious and will usually put the player out for a good 3-6 weeks, give or take a week…depending on the severity. Usually not a season ending injury unless its late in the season. These take a while to fully heal. Not a good injury to have, but much better than the ACL. Usually does not need surgery, and will heal on its own.

o       The LCL Sprain – This is the MCL’s counter part on the other side of the knee. Less likely to see in football, but does and can happen. The player can expect the same prognosis as with the MCL.

·        Meniscus Injury – Injury to the springy cartilage in the knee. These tears are very common in football, especially among lineman. Surgery can fix these and get the player back out there in a hurry. In the NFL, player could be back in as little as 2 weeks, but I have seen them take less time. Remember, the bigger the guy, the more time it takes.

·        Patellar Dislocation – Rare, but happens. This is when the knee cap comes out of place. Usually can be popped back in with no trouble, but also could mean surgery to fix it. Once it happens you are almost guaranteed to see it again in the same knee unless it’s fixed.


2. Shoulder Injuries: Acute shoulder injuries you will likely see during the football season

·        Dislocation – When the long bone of the upper arm (humerus) and the bone in the shoulder blade (scapula) come completely apart. Usually needs to be put back in by the trainers or doc. Will always have torn ligaments with it and usually will mean about 4-6 weeks out of action, and sometimes longer. Sometimes surgery is indicated here too.

·        Separation – Not to be confused with a dislocation. This is when the tip of the shoulder (that bone that you can feel on the very tip) gets separated. It’s actually a joint. These injuries have degrees (1st, 2nd, and 3rd). A 3rd degree is the worst and will put the player out for a long while, maybe the season depending on the position played and how severe. Sometimes surgery is needed. A 1st degree sprain can and will heal up in most cases in a few weeks.

·        Collar Bone Fracture – This is a fracture of the clavicle. Happens either from a direct hit, or falling on the arm in a weird way. Takes usually 4-6 weeks to heal.

·        Sprain – General sprain of the ligaments in the shoulder joint. Depending on how bad it is, can put the player out for about 3-6 weeks.

              3. Muscle Pull

·        Hamstring Strains – These can take a while to heal, depending on where they are in the hammy and how bad they are. I have seen these simple muscle pulls keep players out for more than 6 weeks. Many players will keep playing on them and never allowing them to fully heal.

·        Hip Flexor/Groin Pull – These are nasty and always take a long time to get better and fully heal. Players are out for a good 4-6 weeks sometimes with these.

                Other Common Injuries in Football

·        Ankle Sprains – Can be from 1-6 weeks out, again depending on the severity. High ankle sprains are usually the worst and take the most time to get back from.

·        Turf Toe- Ended Dion Sander’s career (well for a while). This is a bad sprain of the big toe. Doesn’t heal well, and usually keeps coming back throughout the season. Not a good injury for anyone to have.

·        Concussions – this could be a category of its own, but concussions are very hard to guess about unless you are there and even then, it’s mostly guess work to when the player will be back. I will say that I feel players in the NFL are allowed to go back from concussions way too early. Brain damage is almost certain at some level if you play long enough and especially if you have suffered multiple concussions.

o       1st degree – Player may be out for the game, but can usually return by the next week

o       2nd degree – Player is usually out for a couple of weeks, maybe longer

o       3rd degree – Player could be out as long as 6 weeks, and some could be season ending. You usually don’t see this in the NFL, not because they don’t happen, rather because they are down played and will they never tell anyone the real severity of these head injuries. Players come back many times, in just a week or so after suffering a 2nd or 3rd degree concussion.


Behind the scenes:

Ever wonder how a guy like Emmitt Smith, for example, can have a pretty nasty separation of his shoulder, leave the game, come back 15 min. later and lead the Cowboys to a NFC Championship? Yea, you guessed it…with help.

The one caution I will give to following the above guide while watching the NFL is, many of the injuries that you will see tend to have EXTRAORDINARY “healing times”…meaning, you may see the guy back in the game when he really shouldn’t be. Remember my Emmitt Smith example? Help- A pharmaceutical Numbing agent administered to, and around the joint in question. Get it? Does this agent heal the injury? Nope, on the contrary, it will probably make things worse. Some injuries can be played with if pain is “taken care of” and not present. Doesn’t mean they will get better. Some injuries cannot be played with no matter what happens (i.e. ACL, MCL, and sprains). Coaches, Docs, and trainers all make that call usually in agreement to what is best for the team.

So take what you can, if anything, out of the above guide when watching games this year. At the very least, it may give you some new vocabulary words to add to your collection. At best, you may be able to understand what is happening to your player and team when injury happens.

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