Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

30 Nov 2012

Elite NFL Players Come Back Quickly from Injuries

As Sam Farmer from the Los Angeles Times points out, perhaps that's part of what makes them elite players in the first place. Focus, determination, and athletic ability all contribute to more rapid recovery from injuries.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 30 Nov 2012

21 comments, Last at 02 Dec 2012, 2:12pm by The Hypno-Toad


by tally :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 12:19am

I just know someone is going to point out that the same thing that makes some players elite and recover faster from injuries is steroids. And I'm not sure they'd be entirely wrong.

by The Ninjalectual :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:09am

Don't doctors commonly prescribe steroids to normal people when overcoming an injury? Is that specific use not allowed by the NFL?

I'm intrigued more by the painkiller use across the NFL. Playing football, it's no surprise they would have legitimate pain all the time. I've read that maybe 3/4 of the NFL are on opiates any given Sunday.

It makes viewing more interesting, really. You're always asking yourself "did he not make that play/make that play because he was high?"

by akn :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 2:22am

Don't doctors commonly prescribe steroids to normal people when overcoming an injury?

Corcticosteroids are prescribed for normal and pro athletes alike as an anti-inflammatory, but there is no performance-enhancing benefit. In fact, chronic use of them result in catabolic effects including muscle breakdown.

Anabolic steroids (i.e., the true PEDs) are available as a prescription, but are basically only used to counteract severe wasting from conditions like cancer, HIV, severe burns, muscle wasting from spinal chord injuries, etc. A secondary indication is also for severe osteoporosis. There are also a few off-label uses for some rarer diseases. In none of these uses are anabolic steroids the first line of treatment.

Bottom line is that anabolic steroids are rarely used for anyone, and never proscribed for active athletes.

I've read that maybe 3/4 of the NFL are on opiates any given Sunday.

Please link that article. I would be extremely surprised to learn that athletes are using opiates while active. Yes, they are very effective painkillers. But they also depress your breathing and severely impair attention/concentration/reaction time. Unless they have built up the tolerance of an addict, it would be like driving while severely drunk. A pro football player would be looking for an even more severe injury if he were hopped up on morphine on the field.

Toradol (essentially IV or IM Advil) is about as far as painkillers go while on the field. I wouldn't be surprised if 3/4 of players are using Toradol on Sunday, though.

by Theo :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:00am

I'm pretty sure that players use local anestasia before a game to numb a part of the body that hurts.

by DGL :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 12:32pm

Plus there's whatever is in those magic water bottles that soccer trainers squirt on injured players...

by akn :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:34pm

That stuff is ethyl chloride, a skin refrigerant. It's like applying a lot of ice quickly. The rest of the recovery happens as soon as the cameras turn away...

by akn :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:28pm

Again, please link that article. That's not how local anesthetics (lidocaine, bupivicaine, etc.) work. Athletes are usually in pain from actual musculoskeletal injuries, not neuropathic or psychogenic pain.

Locals wash out pretty quickly, and most are applied superficially: enough to numb the pain from an incision for something like excising an abscess, but not deep enough for cuts through muscle. When the anesthetic is deep enough to knock out visceral pain, motor functions are compromised as well (try speaking or sipping after a dentist uses a local on your gums or getting a pregnant lady to walk after applying an epidural).

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 6:35am

From your description, I think the opiates thing was a typo: "severely impair attention/concentration/reaction time" sounds like 3/4 of Eagles players are on opiates.

by Shylo :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 12:53pm

I'm pretty sure anabolic steroids are proscribed for most, if not all active athletes. (Sorry!)

by akn :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 5:34pm

That's what I get for posting at one in the morning.

by Bobman :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 12:52am

It is interesting that some of the pros mentioned in the piece, who one could reasonably say are in the top 1/10 or a percent athletically of all people, look at Peterson and shake their head in wonder, saying things like "Wow, he's different." Indeed.

I think back to Edgerrin James, who at the time of his ACL injury was averaging 110 YPG in his third season, after leading the NFL in rushing his first two--so you'd have to say he was a pretty damn elite athlete. When he left Indy, he held the NFL career record for scrimmage yards poer game, since passed by Tomlinson, and maybe others. His injury was in Week 6 and while he started opening day the next year (surprising many) it took him a full season of playing after his 8 months of rehab to get back to "right." Year 4 was his only full year under 1,000 yds until he went to AZ and he had a couple 1,500 yarders after the injury, but still, he was never quite the same, and there was that full season to get back his groove (minus his burst). Peterson truly is something else.

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 6:36am

I'm pretty certain that Peterson didn't have the same surgery as Edge. Peterson had his legs replaced with robot legs. Its the only explanation.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Sun, 12/02/2012 - 2:12pm

He's one of the few players I've ever made it a point to watch during his college career, and I am willing to say that his legs were already robot legs during his time at Oklahoma.
As I implied up there, I don't watch much college ball, but I started hearing people talk about him in hushed tones after like, his third game, which piqued my interest. I don't really think I've ever seen another running back dominate at the college level the way he did in my limited experience.

by Anonymousse (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:12pm

One thing to remember re:Peterson, and comparing him to guys like Edge, is that our understanding of these sorts of injuries has changed pretty drastically in the last 10 years.

Treatment has also changed pretty radically.

My guess is they treat sports stars a little differently, but my mother had a hip replacement in the late 90s (in her early 40s). If I remember correctly, the instructions were to basically stay off her feet for a while. I think they had it in traction for a couple of weeks, etc. I think she started PT about a month afterward.

She had to have it replaced again sometime around 2008 (one of the parts had failed). They had her in PT on day 2. I remember the therapist saying that things healed much faster if you kept them moving, stretched, etc. Basically, as long as you could handle the pain, the more movement, the better.

So while I think Peterson's recovery is impressive, I think the baseline for these sorts of injuries has moved because of better understanding and better treatment. Wes Welker is another one of these examples. Injured the last game of the year, back just fine for training camp.

by Deelron :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:33pm

It seems like the general plan for surgery these days, my wife had a c-section 6 months ago and all the advice she'd gotten was from ladies who had it 10-20 yeas ago, and they all desribed a long time of just resting before doing anything, even just walking. They had my wife star walking around 24 hours later, and when we asked them why they basically confirmed everything you said above.

by duh :: Sat, 12/01/2012 - 2:18pm

Welker was back but it is a stretch to say he was just fine ... he had his wosrt season by far as a Patriot with his catches and YPC way down. Visually as well from watching he just wasn't the same that year ...

3 year catch totals ...
123 - 86 - 122
11.0 9.9 12.9

by Podge (not verified) :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 6:40am

I'm disappointed that no one has yet argued "This article is rubbish because so-and-so isn't elite"

by erniecohen :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 9:40am

"What we've seen when we're looking at these studies in the NFL is that All-Pros come back more predictably and quicker than other players," he said. "One of the reasons you can't overlook is the sport is willing to wait for an All-Pro to come back."

This as much as says that they didn't measure physical recovery, they measured return to play. Obviously, better players can play with greater relative impairment than average players. So this article basically has nothing of analytical value.

by tuluse :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:49pm

They come back "more predictably" though. Which seems to indicate their level of play doesn't drop off much.

by CoachDave :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 10:58am

An ex-teammate of mine was a defensive position coach at OU when Peterson was there and he's always said that "AP isn't human, he's a freak of nature."

Most pro athletes are "freaks of nature" but when athletes and coaches are saying that...you know the guy has got some rare gifts.

For him to have the season he's been having this year...maybe he actually is Purple Jesus. :)

by Jimmy :: Fri, 11/30/2012 - 1:56pm

Too bad he can't turn three fishes and a dozen loaves into a new stadium.