Ask Dr. Skendzel: Can I recover from sports injuries as quickly as a football star?

Professional football players seems to bounce back effortlessly from injuries on the field. Is there a secret to their rapid recovery that could benefit all of us?

Minnesota Vikings fans are familiar with witnessing their favorite players recovering from injuries with remarkable speed. They seem to make a habit of returning to the field well in advance of medical predictions. Do professional players know something that could benefit other active patients who suffer sports injuries?

“I remember one Viking player who suffered a knee injury,” says Dr. Skendzel. “He was back in the game less than nine months after his ACL reconstruction surgery—it was an extraordinary recovery. Young athletes see how quickly these players return to football, and they expect to recover with the same speed, but the recovery equation isn’t quite that simple. First, professional football players aren’t ordinary average people. They have incredibly good strength before they ever have a surgery, and their great condition helps them to recover quicker. They also have extensive medical resources and the services of dedicated athletic trainers.”

Still, there are guidelines injured athletes can follow to maximize surgical outcomes, even if those outcomes aren’t achieved quite as speedily as a Vikings football star’s.

Maximize your physical condition prior to surgery. Although a patient’s level of fitness before surgery is not a guarantee of a great outcome, it is a contributing factor. A patient who goes into surgery in good condition is more likely to regain good function with post-surgical therapy guided by a therapist with sub-specialty orthopedic expertise.

Surgical graft decisions can reduce the risk that a reconstruction will fail. An ACL tear can be repaired with either the patient’s own tissue, or with cadaver (also called allograph) tissue. There are advantages and disadvantages for both tissue types, but data indicates that for younger patients, using the patient’s own tissue results in a better outcome. When cadaver tissue is used to reconstruct an ACL in younger, active patients, they are at a higher risk for failure. “Allograph tissue takes longer to heal,” explains Dr. Skendzel. “The danger is that the patient starts feeling great and returns to twisting, turning, pivoting sports activities before the body has done its work to heal the graft, and the graft tissue tears.”

A carefully supervised rehabilitation program is critical. “We follow our patients closely after surgery with a carefully prescribed rehab protocol,” explains Dr. Skendzel. “Typically, patients are not allowed to get back to sports sooner than 6 months following surgery. They must be able to demonstrate muscle strength and good neuromuscular control first.”

“Patient education is so important,” Dr. Skendzel concludes. “We work with our patients to give them the information they need to make the best decision about their surgery. Medicine and surgical techniques are always evolving. As a physician, it is part of my job to stay at the forefront of evidence-based advances. Whether my patient is a member of the NFL or of a local high school football team, I partner with them to identify the best surgical option for their injury and recovery goals.”

Sports medicine: Expert bone, joint, and muscle care

From Olympians to pro athletes to youth sports and those that just want to be more active – Summit Orthopedics delivers expert care by fellowship-trained sports medicine physicians. If you are recently injured or concerned about ongoing pain, Summit Orthopedics sports medicine specialists have the expertise to evaluate your discomfort and develop a plan to quickly and safely help you get back to being active.

Start your journey to a more active self: Find your sports medicine expert, request an appointment online, or call us at 651-968-5201 to schedule a sports medicine consultation.

Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and Western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as several additional community clinics.

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  • Jack Skendzel, M.D.

    “An active lifestyle requires superior physical function, and I understand that my patients have exceptionally high standards for their performance and joint health. My goal is to return patients to optimal function so that they can continue to perform and master their personal athletic goals.”

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  • Mary Fellows, PT, DPT

    “I enjoy working with a variety of patients from the young athlete trying to get back to sport specific activities to the older patients recovering from a joint replacement trying to get back to their daily activities and recreation. Being a collegiate runner when I was younger my specialty area is treating runners and analyzing their gait to make sure they are running efficiently and injury free.”

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  • Dan Peterson, Lead PA-C

    “Wear a helmet whenever participating in activities
    that pose a head injury risk.”

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