Indianapolis Colts fans are becoming uncomfortably familiar with Achilles' tears and recovery timelines.
In 2020, both running back Marlon Mack and safety Malik Hooker suffered season-ending Achilles injuries. Chris Ballard added two other players with Achilles injuries suffered in January when he drafted Dayo Odeyingbo in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft and signed former Pro Bowler Eric Fisher to fill the void created by Anthony Castonzo’s retirement.
Queue the Trojan Horse memes.
Three of those four players could play a big role in how the Colts fair in 2021 and history tells us that returning from Achilles injuries isn’t particularly promising. It’s the kind of injury that has ended careers for professional athletes in multiple sports.
So, why would the Colts appear so haphazard in their approach to the injury with so much at stake?
The Athletic’s Stephen Holder penned an incredibly insightful story discussing advancements in Achilles surgery and recovery processes that can help to provide the answer (subscription only). In the story, Holder interviewed a variety of orthopedic surgeons to get their professional perspectives.
- The surgical and recovery process for an Achilles injury has advanced considerably over the last decade. This is in no small part due to contributions from former Colts’ medical staff member Dr. Donald Shelbourne.
- A key to this advancement is a more aggressive rehabilitation process that starts within 72 hours after surgery. This reduces the atrophy of the muscles impacted by the injury.
- The three-month mark is an important milestone for athletes in recovery. Dr. David Geier, a south Carolina orthopedic surgeon, explains:
“By three months, you want to have full range of motion back. You want to be able to walk without any change in your gait pattern and in normal shoes.”
Additionally, Dr. Tim Kremchek, orthopedic surgeon and medical director for the Cincinnati Reds, explains there are other observations to make during a medical examination at the three-month mark.
“The biggest problem you have with fixing an Achilles is that you have to fix it at the right length. If you fix it and it heals and it’s too long, you might never have the power and the push-off strength... But by three months, you can tell whether they’ve got the proper length and the proper healing process to give you a better prognosis.”
- Despite the advancements, there’s no way to provide an accurate timeline for recovery.
- The projections for a full recovery and timeline differ by sport and position. Running back and linebacker are particularly challenging due to how often players at each position have to make hard cuts.
- The successful recovery rate for NFL players is encouraging, over 80 percent.
Dr. Geier adds:
“My experience is that once people do get back and they get through that first season, there’s no reason to think that it’s going to be a problem down the road,” Geier said. “My experience is that they do really well.”
The Colts have a lot of medical science providing reasons for their optimism that Mack, Odeyingbo, and Fisher can make a full recovery and return to the field. What they can’t know, is each player’s timeline. Chris Ballard has said as much in recent interviews, preaching patience.
Colts fans should feel a little better about the long-term outlook for each of the impacted players but will have plenty of reason to wonder how things will play out this season.
Where’s that Trojan Horse?