Arguably the most volatile position in the NFL is the running back. Injuries, everyday wear and tear, and age can shorten the career of a running back. For Isaiah Pead, the end could be near. He was a top five running back in the 2012 NFL draft. He has been off and on injured, had some off-the-field issues, and has been overall underwhelming when he is available to play. Unfortunately for Pead, his career outlook just got even bleaker as he has suffered a season ending injury during a preseason kickoff return. Pead was running down field full speed when his feet got tangled and he went down. The result: an ACL Tear. This knee ligament injury will stop you in your tracks. Most athletes report hearing and feeling a pop and then they go down.
The ACL or anterior cruciate ligament connects the front of the shinbone (tibia) to the middle of the kneecap (patella). The main purpose of the ACL is to provide rotational stability and to prevent the shinbone from getting too far ahead of the thighbone (femur).
Sometimes ACL tear can occur as a result of direct contact with the knee, but more times than not, an ACL tear is a non-contact injury such as in the case of Isaiah Pead. The cause of this non-contact injury is often due to rapid direction changes, sudden stops and decelerations, as well as incorrect landing and pivoting. The symptoms of a ACL Tear include knee pain, knee swelling, knee discomfort, knee tenderness, and decreased range of motion in the knee.
If a knee injury has occurred, an orthopedic physician will compare the structures of your injured and your non-injured knee and in most cases this is sufficient enough to diagnose ligament tears. However, the doctor will sometimes schedule an x-ray and an MRI in order to dismiss potential confounding problems, to validate the diagnosis, and to determine the degree of the injury.
Treatment for an ACL tear is dependent upon the severity of the injury. Grade I sprains involves overly stretched but still in tact. Grade I sprains typically require keeping the weight off the affected leg. Once the swelling has subsided, a physical therapy regimen will be prescribed. These exercises are meant to strengthen the leg muscles that support the ACL. Grade II sprains involves the ACL being stretched to the point that it has become loose. Grade II sprains are a little trickier to handle because they may or may not require surgery depending on lifestyle of the patient. The non-surgical approach is similar to that of grade I sprain but generally this is a longer process since these sprains are more severe. The surgical approach involves the rebuilding of the ligament via a tissue graft followed by rest and physical therapy. Grade III sprains occur when the ligament has been completely split into two pieces. In grade III sprains, surgery is required to rebuild the ligament. The recovery time for ACL surgery is often six to nine months. The prognosis for surgical recovery is positive and many athletes are able to return to their respective sport at near pre-injury form.
As for Isaiah Pead, there is a very good chance he will make a full recovery, but considering his career thus far, it is doubtful he will ever become the player we once thought he could be. Then again, sometimes a player needs to hit rock bottom before they can really begin to understand what it takes to make it, maybe this, will be his wakeup call.
If you have been told you have an ACL tear or are suffering from knee pain, contact our top sports medicine specialists at Orthopedic Surgery San Diego to obtain a consult and be treated they way you deserve!