In the blink of an eye, the NFL lost one of its most promising young players for the 2017 season. More importantly for Eagles supporters, in an instant, a franchise cornerstone, in the midst of a MVP-worthy campaign, had his year cut short from serious injury. Jarring news that seemed to dash all hopes for the team earning its elusive first Super Bowl victory, at the very least, for the foreseeable future.
Of course, as we all now know, some seven weeks later the resilient Birds would prove that there was more than enough talent on the roster to, against all odds, go on to capture their first Lombardi trophy without their star signal-caller. An outcome that even the most optimistic fans could’ve predicted as Quarterback Carson Wentz limped off the field at the LA Coliseum in the third quarter, or when later physical exam and MRI would reveal a torn ACL in his left knee.
The ACL, or Anterior Cruciate Ligament, helps stabilize the knee joint, preventing it from shifting during quick side-to-side motion. When the ACL is injured, the surrounding ligaments and cartilage are often injured as well—as was the case with Wentz. In addition to his torn ACL, surgeons would also repair a torn Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) during a Mid-December surgical procedure.
Recovery from ACL injuries and ACL reconstructive surgery is a long process. With modern minimally invasive outpatient surgical techniques, patients can feel quite good in a few weeks and get back to every day normal activities pretty quickly. However, return to sports is a completely different matter. Athletes must reach certain goals and both rehabilitation and healing.
In the first few months following surgery, focus is on rehabilitation– regaining motion, strength and overall fitness and conditioning. Higher-level agility re-training usually starts around 6 months postoperatively. At that point the new ACL ligament is strong enough for those types of activities and forces, but not quite ready for high impact loading necessary for full sports participation. Recent research has shown that the ACL graft can actually take up to 2 years to regain maximum strength. Athletes can feel and look very good, strong and mobile even several months after surgery, but the ACL graft in the knee is not ready for primetime in terms of strength and durability. This is why most athletes are now waiting 9-12 months before returning to full sports activities. The goal is to avoid the all too common re-tear of the ACL.
Yet despite the prognosis, and barely into the earliest stages of his rehabilitation, Wentz began ruminating aloud of his plans to make it back to game action by September 6th, 2018…otherwise known as opening day. In other words, less than nine months removed from the gruesome injury.
Although the third-year pro didn’t quite reach his personal goal of making it back to the field for the Eagles’ season-opening victory over Atlanta, the consensus opinion is that it’s only a matter of weeks before he does. Once cleared medically for contact, and with the assistance of a knee brace, Wentz and the team expect his 2018 debut to occur in week four or five. When he does, it will complete a remarkable journey from injury to full recovery in, impressively, less than ten-months time.
The prognosis for returning to full sports participation is excellent following ACL reconstruction surgery. Brandon Graham, whose tremendous play, stripping the ball from Tom Brady late in Super Bowl LII, and helping seal the victory, had also recently recovered from ACL surgery. In fact, there are 9 starting quarterbacks in the NFL (Bradford ×2, Brady, Brees, Flacco, Keenum, Tannehill. Rivers, Rodgers, Watson ×2) who have overcome a torn ACL. No doubt, Philadelphia Eagles #11 will be #10 to join that list!