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Study: Patellar tendon injuries most difficult for NFL players to return from

Researchers at Northwestern Medicine engaged in a widespread study that focused on serious NFL-related injuries and how players fared after attempting to return from said injuries.

The wide-ranging study looked at injuries to the knee and other areas of the lower body. In an interesting turn, researchers found that players who suffered ruptures of the patellar tendon had the lowest return-to-play (RTP) rates at just 50 percent.

“Our findings related to patellar repair and ACLR highlight how devastating a tendon or ligament injury to the knee can be for an NFL athlete,” Wellington K. Hsu, a surgeon at the Center for Comprehensive Orthopaedic and Spine Care at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, noted in the study. “A healthy knee is crucial to a player’s ability to pivot, jump, run, kick and make stopping movements– all elements of the game of football – so it’s not surprising these procedures would have strong impact on performance.”

A total of 559 players were included in the database for the study. Of those players, 80 percent returned to the gridiron. With just a 50 percent rate, those who have suffered patellar tendon ruptures have a significantly less success rate as it relates to playing again.

On the other hand, those recovering from surgeries for traumatic bony fractures and sports hernia had a 90 percent RTP rate.

This study is definitely important to note heading into the start of the 2016 NFL season. Seattle Seahawks tight end Jimmy Graham suffered a patellar tendon rupture late last season. He’s been on the shelf since and is questionable to go for Week 1.

New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz suffered a ruptured patellar tendon back in October of 2014. He missed the remainder of that season and didn’t see the field at all last year.

Cruz is finally slated to see action in a regular season game for the first time in nearly two years when the Giants take on the Dallas Cowboys this upcoming weekend.

Due to the prevalent nature of ACL injuries around the NFL, those are what seem to get the most press.

Though, it must be noted that the aforementioned study indicated that RTP rates for players who suffer ACL injuries are much better.

It is, however, important to note that those who suffer ACL and patellar tendon injuries see a significant decline in on-field performance for up to three years upon their return. Of course, that only counts those who actually return to the gridiron.

Every situation is different. Each player responds in a different manner. Some are able to recover from devastating injuries in a much shorter time frame than others.

Though, this wide-ranging study should definitely ground those of us who believe Graham and Cruz will be able to return at a high level this season.

It’s also important to note that these findings can help the scientific and sports communities better handle the severe injuries players suffer.

“Understanding performance outcomes for common orthopaedic procedures may lead to alterations in training regimens for NFL athletes as well as help guide short- and long-term postoperative expectations for an athlete’s career,” said Hsu. “Knowing the relative differences in recovery after orthopaedic procedures may be interesting to NFL players, coaches and fans alike.”

That’s obviously the most important aspect of this study and others similar to it. Once the scientific community gets involved, it can help the NFL understand better the fragility of the human body and the best way to respond.