Doc Talk: Putting NFL Knee Injuries in Perspective

National Football League games are fast and full of violent collisions. Although concussions are concerning and have received widespread media attention, knee injuries outnumber concussions almost three-to-one so far in the 2015 season.

The most common knee injuries in football include those to the anterior or posterior cruciate ligament (ACL or PCL). John W. Uribe, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, explains why the ACL is at risk: “It’s one of the four main ligaments in the knee and is the primary stabilizer for rotational movement,” Dr. Uribe said. “Football players frequently pivot and change direction, and that’s when the ACL comes into play.” Tackling, blocking and getting clipped from behind also can result in an ACL tear.

A survey of NFL players found that many are more worried about knee injuries than they are head injuries. That’s because in the past, a knee injury was career-ending. Now with arthroscopic surgery and proper strengthening and rehabilitation techniques, the future is much brighter, Dr. Uribe says. Recovery from an ACL tear may still take an entire season, but the majority of players, like NFL stars Frank Gore and Rob Gronkowski, make a comeback.

If an ACL injury is suspected during a game, the Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute team immediately follows the common musculoskeletal injury protocol of RICE: rest, ice, compression and elevation. Treatment options for an ACL injury are non-operative treatment, which includes rehabilitation with and without bracing; or reconstructive surgery.

Athletes with a completely torn ACL are likely to opt for surgery, so that the knee can be repaired and rehabilitated and they can return to their sport. Endoscopic ACL reconstruction is extremely technical and is done using small instruments through a tiny incision, explains Dr. Uribe. “ACL reconstruction should be performed by an experienced sports orthopedist who does the surgery often and is familiar with the demands when the athlete returns to play,” Dr. Uribe advised.

Rehabilitation after an injury or surgery is a vital component of the Institute’s orthopedics and sports medicine program, says Ed Garabedian, a sports medicine physical therapist with the Institute who has rehabbed many NFL greats post-ACL reconstruction. “Our goal is to build strength and mental confidence, restore function and get players back onto the playing field as soon as possible,” Mr. Garabedian said.

Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute physicians, physical therapists and athletic trainers also focus on injury prevention. “We conduct training sessions in the community to educate athletes, families, coaches and athletic trainers about injury prevention,” Dr. Uribe explained. “We emphasize proper training, technique and warm-up to prevent injury.” This includes stretching before, during and after the game. A good program also should include strength and endurance training to help combat fatigue, which diminishes the split-second timing the muscles need to properly react and absorb shock.

Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute offers comprehensive services for athletes and non-athletes – from physical and cognitive evaluation to rehabilitation and surgical reconstruction. They are the sports medicine provider for the Orange Bowl, Miami Dolphins, Miami Heat, Florida Panthers, Florida International University athletics, Miami Open Tennis, World Golf Championship-Cadillac Championship, Miami Marathon and Half Marathon and Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

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