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America loves its fantasy football. Over 75 million people prepare for the fall by researching players, finding the angles, and prepping for drafts that will make or break their seasons. But there’s one thing that you can never properly prepare for – injuries. Football takes a toll on its athletes like few other sports, and that means that injuries may be the reason you lose at least one game this year. Chicago Bears fans playing fantasy will certainly remember the hurt and frustration of losing hometown Alshon Jeffery in 2015. Or the deflated feeling of Peyton Manning’s neck injury in 2011. Or the time when Tony Romo injured his… well actually, if you drafted Tony Romo in the past few years, you should have expected him to miss half the season anyway.

The reality is that season-ending injuries are crippling, but aren’t the most frustrating for your team.  You know the player is going to be out, and therefore you can drop that player and move forward with a replacement. But when a player is week-to-week, you are set with the task of assessing how productive that player will be.

IMPACT Physical Therapy wants to help you out this year. By applying our injury expertise to gauging injuries on the field, you’ll have a better sense of who to hold on to, who to drop, and whether to start those game-time decisions.

 

Knee Injuries: From ACL Sprains to Meniscus Damage

The bane of skill position players, knee injuries are also the most common within football. The knee is responsible for much of the cutting, pivoting, and quick twitch skills that running backs and wide receivers rely on for production. Consider the following hierarchy to understand the recovery and potential productivity if or when a player returns.

Meniscus Damage:

Of well-known knee injuries, meniscus tears often have the most positive outlook. The menisci are cartilage that provide cushioning in the knee joint. The severity of the damage will dictate whether arthroscopic surgery is required to restore lost blood flow.

Recovery Time: In mild cases, players can return and play through the damage. In medium severity, the combination of surgery and heal time will see players return to being productive in approximately six weeks. Severe tears will place the player on IR. When there is a severe meniscus tear, it is likely the player has damage to the surrounding ligaments as well.

One thing to keep in mind: stay away from older players with a history of meniscus damage. As we age, the meniscus does not remain as healthy and will no longer provide the cushioning the knee requires. Players with arthritic knees are a high injury risk.

Ligament Damage:

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In the knee, the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), medial collateral ligament (MCL), lateral collateral ligament (LCL) and posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) help provide structure and support. The ACL and PCL join the thigh bone (femur) to the shin (tibia). The MCL is a very thick band and supports the inside of the knee.

The LCL is the least common of the four ligaments to be injured, and can get much-needed support from a brace. Most tackles in football threaten to push the knee backward or inward, leaving the LCL less prone. While many might think that the ACL would be the worst to be injured, multiple players, including John Elway and Hines Ward, have continued their careers without one. The PCL and MCL are the most problematic. Both are thicker ligaments that will require longer recovery times, accordingly. A MCL injury can severely limit lateral movement and agility, while a torn PCL can cause problems for the hamstring and calf muscles.

Recovery Time: Injuries to knee ligaments will knock a player out from a week to a full year, depending on the grade of the injury and the necessity for surgery. Any player who suffers a Grade 3 tear should be dropped from your fantasy team. Even if they do make it back in time for more games that year, it’s unlikely that their production will be remotely close to what you’d expect.

 

Ankle Injuries – Painful to Football Players and You

Like the knee, injuries to the ankles are extremely common in football. They’re also one of the most common injuries regardless of profession. Due to the complexity of the ligaments within the ankle region, injuries can be very complex and varied.

What’s the Difference Between Common Ankle Sprains?

Every week the news feed scrolls across the bottom of the screen and someone will have suffered a high ankle sprain. But what’s the difference between a high ankle sprain and a common one?

It comes down to the ligaments that are injured. Common ankle sprains involve the anterior talofibular ligament (ATFL), which runs between the talus (the top bone of the foot) and the fibula. As one of the main stabilizers of the ankle, it’s the main source of pain when an athlete rolls their ankle. But except for the most severe of rolled ankles, the pain can be tolerated, the ankle can be braced, and a player can perform without too much risk to further injury. Feel confident starting your players 1-2 weeks after a common ankle sprain.

High ankle sprains are a different story. In a high ankle sprain, the syndesmosis set of ligaments are damaged. They lie between the tibia and fibula and above the ankle joint. When we move, each step causes stress to the tibia and fibula and pushes the two bones apart. The syndesmosis ligaments absorb the stress and keep the bones in place.

As easy as common ankle sprains are to diagnose and treat, high ankle sprains are the opposite. They rarely look as bad as they feel, with minimal swelling and bruising. But the pain can be excruciating, and a brace does little to help. Since they’re caused by a sudden twisting of the ankle, athletes are very susceptible.

Recovery Time: High ankle sprains can take six weeks to six months to recover from. Consider dropping players with high ankle sprains, and don’t expect much production their first week or two back from the sidelines.

Hip Pointers and Hamstring Strains – Annoying Fantasy Teams Everywhere

Both hip pointers and hamstring strains are particularly frustrating when it comes to fantasy sports. Both are nagging injuries that have variable recovery periods, depending on the person. Football players are prone to hip pointers due to the tackling nature of the game, while hamstring injuries can happen to anyone.

Recovery Time: Hip points may last a few weeks to six or more weeks, depending on the severity, while hamstrings may take a few days or months to recover from. What’s worse is players will want to push through both injuries, delaying healing and killing production.

 

Shoulder Injuries – Look Beyond the Quarterback

Obviously, any injury to the throwing arm of a quarterback is going to make them ride the bench on your fantasy team. Without proper rotation and comfort in the shoulder, a quarterback’s velocity and accuracy will be severely impacted.

But quarterbacks can be affected by other people’s shoulder injuries as well; namely on their offensive line and the opponent’s defensive line. Those working in the trenches are using their shoulders and arms on every single play. In these one-on-one battles, it can make or break a play. So, keep an eye on lineman’s injury reports too – it may be the difference between a good game or a poor one for your skill players.

Dislocated Shoulders

Shoulders are most likely to dislocate in a football game from a fall or a hit, and the result is the top of the arm coming out of the shoulder socket. Once the shoulder is popped back in, the main issue is how much structural damage occurred at the time of dislocation. Quality physical therapy is key in dislocation cases, because now the shoulder will be more prone to dislocating again. Dislocation may cause a labral tear or other tissue injury.

Recovery Time: A dislocated shoulder usually heals between one and three months. BUT, the player is unlikely to be pain free for much longer, despite range of motion being recovered. If you have another quarterback, stick to them until your started has proven they are back and healthy.

Injured AC Joint

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The AC joint sits between the collarbone and the shoulder blade. In the case of a particularly harsh tackle, one or both ligaments in the area may be damaged. When the joint separates, the clavicle is dislocated from the acromion, causing severe pain. The shoulder will be unable to support itself and will collapse from the arm’s weight.

 

Recovery Time: AC joint injuries are easy to diagnose, but complicated in terms of recovery. Mild injuries may need a few weeks of rest and physical therapy to recover strength. There are a variety of surgery options, and choosing the correct one is important. After surgery, the shoulder should be restricted with a sling for about a month, then six to ten weeks of physical therapy. Even after the physical therapy, the shoulder won’t be at full strength. In other words, unless it’s the mildest of ac joint injuries, steer clear of these injured players.

 

Get Injury Advice From a Physical Therapist

At IMPACT Physical Therapy, we specialize in helping Illinois’s athletes stay fit and get back on the field. If you or someone you know needs to recover from an injury and return to peak form, contact us today!