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“Will I be able to play again?”

It’s usually the first thing out of a football player’s mouth after a serious injury has been suffered on the field. Returning to the game is the top priority for many athletes, even to the point of risking their future health.

Can a serious football injury that sidelines a player for a few games or up to a season allow for comeback? The answer is, it depends.

CONCUSSIONS

Concussions are one of the most common types of injuries football players suffer. In most cases, the player takes a short time to recover after a head injury – as little as a few moments, in some cases! – and is back on the field, seemingly as good as new. However, long term, repeated concussions can cause serious TBI (traumatic brain injury), so while making a quick comeback may be an attractive option, careful evaluation and a risk/benefit analysis should be done before a player who has suffered multiple concussions retakes the field.

DISLOCATED JOINTS

A dislocation usually is resolved quickly, and recovery may only span a month or two before training can resume. However, like concussions, the danger of dislocated joints is that repeated dislocations can lead to long term, serious injury. In addition, once a joint has been dislocated once, the chances of the same injury recurring is up to 90%. Serious dislocation can lead to tearing of the muscles and connective tissue around the joint, causing serious damage and increasing the likelihood of reinjury. Knees and shoulders are at the highest risk for dislocation, and players with repeated injury may experience shoulder instability which can lower their performance.

ACHILLES TENDON RUPTURE

Rarer than concussions or dislocated joints, Achilles tendon rupture is seen in the NFL due to the explosive nature of the game. An Achilles is likely to rupture when sudden pressure is put on an already strained tendon. Although the incidence of Achilles rupture is low, 0.93% per NFL game, nearly 36% of affected players never return to playing at the NFL level – and those who do return to the field suffer from a decline in power ratings of up to 50%.

ACL TEARS

For decades, the worst prognosis a football player can hear is “ACL tear.” A torn ACL spelled certain death to a rising star’s career, with limited options for repair, a poor outlook for future trainability, and almost no hope of returning to pro player status. While thirty years ago, an ACL injury was career-ending, today’s access to arthroscopy and refined surgical techniques allow many athletes to return to sports. That said, the comeback is generally 11-12 months after the injury, and performance may not ever reach former levels. The severity of the tear, repair options chosen, and compliance with the recommended recovery program will significantly affect a football player’s future on the field.

Having a doctor who puts the health of the player first is vital to avoiding serious long-term damage. Rushing back into play after an injury increases the chances of reinjury. Creating a sensible, fitness driven plan for a comeback and sticking to it holds the best chance of success.