It seems like every week we are hearing of another player tearing their ACL either in practice or during a big game, and for the most part that’s been the reality.
Nearly 80% of NFL teams are suffering player losses due to ACL tears this season, and that number just seems way too high. Why is this happening? Why does it only seem to be an issue within the NFL? And what does it mean for the future of these players?
Firstly, we are tending to see a lot of non-contact ACL tears. Players just happen to land on the ligament the wrong way and BAM! They’re out for the season. It seems harsh, and it really is. For the most part it’s near impossible to prevent, but there is evidence to suggest why this increase may be happening and what teams can do to lower this risk.
In the latest CBA between the NFL and the NFLPA, players agreed to a new rule that allows them more off time in the offseason. Seems reasonable right? Who wouldn’t want a little more vacation time?
However, researchers are beginning to link this extended off-time to the increasing amount of ACL tears, at least non-contact ones. Their theory comes from the decreased amount of training players are subject to during the offseason, and how, come preseason, they are putting a lot of pressure on muscles and ligaments that are not fully prepared for a 17 week season.
However, ACL tears are different amongst every player. A lot of them also occur after big hits (usually and hopefully unintentional). Researchers have also linked this to new NFL rules as well. They believe that with players no longer able to hit or tackle a large portion of the upper body, players are now more adept to targeting the legs. This is not to say they are aiming to take out other players’ ACL’s per say, but rather to play the game according to the recently implemented rules. Even as the rules were intended to make the game safer, it seems to only have increased the amount of injury players are taking to their knees.
So what do all these ACL tears mean for the future of the players, and the NFL? Well ‘tearing’ anything is never a good thing. And ACL’s actually can’t just be ‘repaired’ since they are such soft and delicate tissue. They are often just replaced with what doctors call a “graft” or a new surgical tissue. So these renovations to the knee are never really better than what they used to have, and they often come with risks that can be detrimental to a players future. This includes higher risk for another ACL tear, increased chances of arthritis, and an increased speed for which the arthritis may occur. None of which any player, or person rather, would want to deal with.
So how does the league and NFL teams decrease ACL tears without manipulating the rules of the game? Well firstly, teams can look to putting more effort in strengthening the ligaments of their players. This means forcing players, especially players who are at higher risk for ACL damage, to exercise these muscles more than not. Secondly, teams should locate specialists who can identify players who are more adept to ACL injury than others. They can then work with these players to practice more efficient ways of allowing the ligament to absorb shock, and thus ready them more for the start of a long season.
No, we can’t eliminate ACL injury completely from the game of football, it just happens to be part of the sport, but research has shown that there is certainly ways of decreasing the chances of players falling to this injury, and I think the NFL should definitely look more closely into this research.
Just in case you were interested, here’s a list I have compiled of players who have suffered a torn ACL this season. You’ll notice that only a few teams have been left off the list. If I am missing anyone or I am incorrect about anything, please inform me!
2015 NFL ACL Tears (and a few other related knee injuries) by Division:
Ravens – Joe Flacco
Browns – N/A
Bengals – James Wright (PCL)
Steelers – Kelvin Beachum, Le’Veon Bell (MCL), Shaun Suisham
Texans – Reshard Cliett
Colts – Henry Anderson
Jaguars – Dante Fowler Jr.
Titans – Deiontrez Mount, Brandon Harris
Bills – Jarious Wynn, Cierre Wood, Ty Powell
Dolphins – Louis Delmas
Jets – Devin Smith, Zach Sudfeld
Patriots – Brandon Gibson, Dane Fletcher, Deion Lewis,
Broncos – Jeff Heuerman, Ryan Clady
Chiefs – Tyler Bray, Jamaal Charles
Raiders – N/A
Chargers – N/A
Bears – N/A
Lions – Brandon Pettigrew
Packers – Jordy Nelson
Vikings – N/A
Falcons – N/A
Panthers – Kelvin Benjamin, Stephen Hill
Saints – Jack Tebb
Bucs – Louis Murphy
Cowboys – Lance Dunbar, Orlando Scandrick, Justin Jackson
Giants – Bennett Jackson
Eagles – JaCorey Shepherd, Travis Long
Redskins – Adam Hayward, Derek Carrier, Silas Redd
Cardinals – Tryann Mathieu, Kenny Demens, Brandon Person
49ers – Glen Dorsey, Reggie Bush
Seahawks – N/A
Rams – Isiah Ferguson