When Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr suffered a broken right fibula in the December 24, 2016, game against the Colts, it seemed like just one more setback on the road to the Super Bowl. In the end, the Raiders lost to both the Broncos and the Texans, to put their Super Bowl dreams aside for another year.
But Carr was not the only Raiders player to be sidelined with injuries and thus weaken the strength of the team. Twelve other Raiders teammates were on the injured list before the season-ending January 7, 2017, Wild Card game, and two others suffered ankle injuries similar to Carr.
Knee and lower leg injuries account for 53% of all NFL injuries, and many players undergo significant surgery and therapy to recover from these injuries. Carr’s recovery will likely include surgical reduction of the fracture with fixation of the fracture in the correct position. This usually is accomplished with a plate and some screws. The hardware will remain in place while the bone is healing to maintain the correct position so that the fracture heals correctly. The hardware also provides additional stability while the bone is still weak.
Carr is expected to be out 6-8 weeks for recovery, with a return date well in time for next season. With such an important healing process, eight weeks seems like an unbelievably short window for such significant healing, but I’ve seen some pretty amazing things happen with athletes coming back from injuries like this faster than the average person. It is entirely possible to recover in eight weeks if he is able to work out and maintain his strength while recuperating from the injury.
This is a two-edged sword. If he does too much with it, the fracture could break apart, or worse, he could break the plate/screws. This would then require additional surgery and downtime. If he doesn’t work out, he loses muscle mass, coordination, and range of motion which would limit his ability to come back within the timeframe of eight weeks.
It’s a delicate balance of personal recovery versus the needs of the team, and one that NFL players are very familiar with. A Washington Post survey of retired NFL players found that nearly nine in 10 report suffering from aches and pains on a daily basis; pain they overwhelmingly attribute to football injuries.
Those big contracts and fulfilled boyhood dreams come with a bigger price. That same Washington Post survey reveals that more than 90% of retired players reported suffering at least one major injury while in the NFL. More than half reported three or more; one in five reported five or more.
Derek’s best protection against this injury is his offensive line, which clearly let him down on this play, but ankle injuries can happen off the field as well. Even though you’ve never suited up and stepped on a football field, this is one of those freak injuries that can happen to people regardless of their endeavors. Athletics, recreational activities, even incidental everyday activities can result in a fracture on a sudden and strange turn of events that compromises the position of the joint and causes the bone to break. Ankle injuries can happen regardless of who you are.
The correct treatment is important no matter what profession or life stage you are in. While Carr will need to rely on his healed ankle for a successful next season, the appropriate treatment is important for anyone. Under-treatment or missed diagnoses can result in long-term complications that will prevent the joint from ever working correctly. It is important to have these evaluated when they happen.