Deeper Look: A Look Back on This NFL Season, and the Injuries Football Can Cause

During the 2017 – 2018 NFL season, not one team went unscathed. All 32 NFL franchises ended the season with someone benched, and the Super Bowl won’t be any different. For both the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles, a key player will be watching from the sidelines. Whether you believe Tom Brady’s hand is actually injured, or think it’s a dirty tactic from Bill Belichick, it’s hard to deny how brutal this season has been for players.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new thing for the National Football League. At its core, football is a dangerous game to play, and people are just learning the long-term effects of the game. A few major “scares” have turned the audience away, leading to one of the lowest rated seasons in NFL history. Looking back on the season, it’s easy to see just how real these “scares” are and that something must be done about the health of the players. When Vince McMahon (owner of the WWE) announced his plans to reinstate his football league, the XFL, a major talking point was ensuring the safety of players.

There are too many injuries in modern football, and the NFL may have a dark future ahead if they can’t do something about them. Here are just a few major injuries that have occurred over the season, and how they might affect the players well after their football career.

Rob Gronkowski, and the Threat of Concussion

This is a fitting end to the season, given that concussions are the note it started on. When Will Smith’s critically acclaimed film Concussion hit theaters in 2015, it brought fear into the hearts of many football fans. After a rough 2016, the sight of even more injury turned many away for good. As we ramped into the 2017 season, concussion protocol was the talk of the town. While it’s great that the NFL has stepped up to better treat concussions, it means little if they don’t do something to prevent them.

Here’s what happened in the body of New England Patriots’ tight end Rob Gronkowski when he was hit by the Jaguar’s Barry Church: as he fell to the ground, the spinal fluid that normally keeps Gronk’s brain away from his skull failed to do its job. This left his brain to slam directly against its container, leaving bruises and tissue damage. When Gronk got up from the ground, he was dizzy and immediately sleepy. Of course, if he had fallen asleep it may have hurt his brain’s ability to heal, and he would have never woken up.

Given that he has a major concussion, it may take Gronk weeks before he can sleep unsupervised. He will have visual disturbances, and be off balance. The next few weeks will be tough, but the effects of the concussion won’t stop there. Many people who have a concussion will live the rest of their lives before they are ever put in a position to get another concussion, but Gronk will be back to practice soon. When he is, he will get hit again. He may think he’s fine – many football players and other physical professionals have gone decades thinking they’re fine – but he isn’t.

In the long term, the concussion will cause deterioration of Gronk’s motor pathways. It will take longer and longer for messages from the brain to his limbs to get there, causing a delay in his reaction time. If he suffers from another concussion later in life, he may begin to see symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease. Made famous by Michael J. Fox, Parkinson’s disease is a disruption in the central nervous system characterized by uncontrollable shaking. Gronk will also begin to see his attention span shortening, as the brain struggles to function the same way it could be for.

Carson Wentz, and the Torn ACL (and LCL)

Of course, the Patriots aren’t the only team benching a star player. While it wasn’t too sad a moment for Cowboys fans, it was a tragedy for Philadelphia when star quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL. His backup, Nick Foles, is doing fine (excluding a 6-0 loss to the Cowboys), but it was tough to see Wentz go down after an amazing second year season. Known for his ability to run, Wentz was sidelined after a hit from two Ram’s players left him with a torn ACL and LCL.

The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is one of the major ligaments in the inner knee. The LCL, or lateral collateral ligament, performs a similar task on the outside. When Wentz’s leg was bent in a way it was unprepared for, these two ligaments snapped. This would render his knee mostly immobile. At the time of the hit, he would have heard a loud “pop,” followed by immense pain, and a buckling of the knee. This pain would continue for hours, and may still linger now. He was likely brought immediately to an emergency surgeon, who would have done his best to repair the torn ligaments, helping them to naturally repair themselves.

Unfortunately for Wentz, this injury won’t be over with soon. While he may be able to play for many more years, he’s left at a huge risk for future injury and complication.  For example, he has just greatly increased his risk for knee osteoarthritis, which will only be compounded by frequent and rough usage. Should he suffer another knee injury any time soon, there’s a much greater risk of a second ligament tear. If his ACL or LCL tears again, it could mean an early retirement.

Sean Lee, and the Hamstring Strain

The Dallas Cowboys’ linebacker Sean Lee is in a similar boat. After an All-Pro 2016 season, Lee was forced to sit out against the Eagle’s when his hamstring was strained in the last quarter of a game against the Atlanta Falcons. It’s difficult to say what exactly Sean Lee is going through, given that there is no information on the grade of the injury. Hamstring strain is graded on a scale of 1 to 3. A 3 means the hamstring has been completely torn, a 2 is a partial muscle tear, and a 1 is a mild pull or strain. Given that he seems to be better already, it’s likely that Lee suffered a grade 1 hamstring strain.

The hamstring, of course, refers to the large tendon in the back of the thigh. A hamstring tear may refer to an injury to that ligament, or to the surrounding muscles in the back of the thigh. A grade 1 hamstring strain is characterized by sudden (but not unbearable) pain and tenderness in the back of the thigh. It will cause pain in the leg when moved, but won’t reduce muscle strength. A grade 2 hamstring strain is much like a grade 1, but the pain is heavily multiplied. A grade 3 hamstring strain will cause even more pain, and immediate swelling and bruising. Much like an ACL tear, you will often hear a loud pop when a grade 3 hamstring strain occurs.

The long-term effects of hamstring strain aren’t terrible and are unlikely to sideline a player for good. Over some time, the muscle will heal almost completely, although it may be left weaker and decrease in mobility. The worst effect of a hamstring strain in the long term is an increased risk for later injury. Once a hamstring has been strained, it will become much more vulnerable to doing so in the future. Even over a long period of time, several hamstring injuries will compound and lead to severe muscle deterioration.

JJ Watt, and the Tibial Plateau Fracture

Dallas wasn’t the only Texas team to have a player injured. JJ Watt, star defensive end for the Houston Texans, left a huge dent in the team’s defense when he was sidelined with an uncommon injury — a tibial plateau fracture. The tibial plateau is the area at the top of the tibia, or calf bone, which lies right next to the knee joint. The tibial plateau is an immensely important part of the human anatomy and is responsible for knee alignment, stability, and motion, as well as a focus point for much of the weight of the human body. Without the tibia plateau, knees would give out much more frequently.

When Watt fractured this area, he likely felt his knee give out, or that it was stiff. He may have also noticed pain, and swelling around the joint. It’s great for his career that the fracture was noticed. Often, tibial plateau fractures are mistaken for other issues, leading to complication. Over time, the knee will get much better and J.J. will be back to playing. In the long term, he does have to be careful of posttraumatic arthritis. As mentioned above, any injury to a joint will leave a player at risk. But, again, having the injury caught early on will be crucial to his recovery and the lessening of long-term symptoms.

Rapid Med Team
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