Robert Griffin III tweeted "See you guys next season" to his followers early Wednesday morning, and he certainly has a chance to return to play in the fall. But he may have to wait longer to take the field again, according to an orthopedic surgeon trained by Dr. James Andrews, the renowned specialist who examined Griffin on Tuesday.
Michael Jablonski, a former team physician for the Orlando Magic, said he tells patients who have injuries similar to Griffin's to expect eight to 12 months to return to play, and more than that to feel as strong and stable as before the injury.
Griffin's rehab could go well and he may be on the field for the Redskins' season-opener. But there is also a possibility the Washington Redskins star rookie quarterback may not regain the Olympic speed he has shown in his career so far.
It was reported Tuesday that Dr. Andrews will surgically repair Griffin's lateral collateral ligament in his right knee, which he tore in Sunday's wild-card loss against the Seattle Seahawks. During surgery to repair Griffin's torn LCL, Dr. Andrews reportedly determined that Griffin's anterior cruciate ligament needed to be repaired as well.
[Photos: RG3 injured]
Jablonski said it's unlikely that the LCL was torn in isolation – "I've seen like five isolated LCL tears [in 13 years]" – and it's the potential of multiple ligament damage that puts Griffin's short-term prognosis in the most peril. Jablonski said ACL injuries take six to eight months to heal and "a year to forget about it," meaning a year before the patient doesn't feel any after-effects. The LCL complicates the issue, because while an ACL regulates front-to-back motion, the LCL controls side-to-side movement.
"It makes it more difficult," said Jablonski, now the orthopedic doctor for the University of Central Florida athletic department. "You're trying to restore stability in more than one plane."
And because Griffin's mastery comes in both straight-ahead speed and lateral motion, his full recovery will be more tenuous than it would be for a more traditional drop-back passer.
"For that type of player to return to that same level of play, the chances are going to be lower than if it was a single-ligament injury," Jablonski said.
Asked if Griffin's Olympic-level speed is at risk, Jablonski said, "There's no question it's at risk. Not everybody regains full range of motion. It's still unstable and maybe can't get back to what it was."
This is not to be overly pessimistic. Adrian Peterson suffered a multiple-ligament injury in December 2011 and returned to have an MVP-caliber season in 2012. He did not miss a single game. Andrews performed Peterson's surgery and he is, in Jablonski's words, "by far the best sports medicine surgeon."
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But Jablonski feels the need to be straightforward with patients, and Peterson's expedited recovery is "very rare." Stiffness post-surgery is likely, and further procedures are not out of the question.
"When you have someone like RG3, you can use Adrian Peterson as a motivational tool," he said. "There's no question you can look at him and say it is possible. But on the other hand, there are certainly examples of athletes who didn't get back. You just have to be realistic with the patients. You might need more than one surgery."
Depending on the severity of the tear, an LCL can be sewn back together. An ACL, according to Jablonski, cannot. That ligament is repaired with material from another part of the body or even a cadaver. Griffin had reconstruction of his right ACL in 2009.
Asked if a return to play next season should be ruled out for Griffin, Jablonski said no.
"It certainly is possible," he said. “But it's not the norm."
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