The League

Dr. A. Brion Gardner
Orthopedic Surgeon

Dr. A. Brion Gardner

Staff Orthopedic Surgeon at Camp LeJeune

If he can play, play


The opportunity to play in the Super Bowl is a once in a lifetime occurrence for most professional football players. It is the ultimate accomplishment in ones career. Most players have worked their entire lives to have this opportunity to win. Some would think that this game is worth playing in at all costs.

Dwight Freeney has played in the Super Bowl before. He and his team were Super Bowl champions just three years ago. So, should he mortgage the future of his NFL career by playing on an injured ankle? The answer is simple yet complex all at the same time.

Although winning the Super Bowl is a once in a lifetime opportunity, it does come around more than once for some. Playing in and winning a second trophy is the chance for many players to solidify their greatness, forge their campaign for the Hall of Fame, and provide the perfect cap to a spectacular career.

So, at times, YES, the calculated risk is worth the reward. Simply put, when it comes down to it, either Freeney can play or he can't.

By all reports from the Indianapolis Colts, he has sustained an ankle sprain. This is seemingly a minor injury that many players often overcome in one or two weeks. However, there have also been media reports that he has more than a sprain and has actually torn a ligament!! Well, they are one in the same.

The ankle is primarily stabilized by three ligaments (connective tissue that links one bone to another) on the outside of the ankle. A sprain is when a ligament is essentially stretched or torn in the most severe of circumstances. Ankle sprains are graded 1-3 in terms of severity. If one ligament is injured it is a grade I, if two are injured it is a grade II, and so on.

Freeney has been reported to have a grade III sprain which would suggest that all three of the ligaments stabilizing the outside of his ankle are torn. Some media reports have stated that he has a "low ankle sprain". That is not a medical diagnosis. I am sure that is a laymen's term that has been created by the team to downplay the severity of his injury. The "high ankle sprain" is a common injury in football and has become known as a serious injury. Calling Freeney's injury a "low ankle sprain" would suggest that his condition is less severe than a "high ankle sprain".

Whatever lay term you choose to use to describe his injury, he is prone to rolling his ankle outward. The usual treatment for this is immobilizing the ankle in a walking boot or often a cast. The recovery time is often six weeks or more. Surgery is required if after a period of prolonged immobilization, there is still laxity to the ankle and the player continues to roll the ankle.

The core and strength of Freeney's effectiveness is his ability to twist, turn, roll, and change directions quickly. Having this injury greatly diminishes his capability of doing that. He likely will have heavy bracing to support his ankle, thereby decreasing pain and rolling of the ankle. He is also likely to receive some sort of pain relieving injection and/or medication around game time.

Is Freeney being needled to play? Absolutely. He has been and IS a key to the Indianapolis Colts success as a football team. Should he play? Absolutely. If he is able to tolerate the pain (if he even experiences any at all) and be effective as a defender and pass rusher, there is no reason to hold him out of the game. The bottom line, as I mentioned earlier, is whether he will be able to perform at all. If he can't do it, he simply can't do it and this discussion is irrelevant. However, he should give it a go for as long as he can go. This only comes around once (or twice) in a lifetime. There will be plenty of time for healing in the off season.

Hoisting that Lombardi trophy seems to work miracles as a pain reliever.

By Dr. A. Brion Gardner  |  February 3, 2010; 11:27 AM ET  | Category:  Medical Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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