On Sunday, Jan. 3, Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker made a routine catch and proceeded to elude potential tacklers. Unfortunately, his effort resulted in tearing two of the four main ligaments in his left knee.
A season-ending knee injury to a player of Welker’s magnitude prompts several questions from fans. Why did it happen? How will the injury be repaired? Will he be able to return to his previous level of performance?
The knee is the largest joint in the human body and joins the lower portion of the femur and upper portion of the tibia. Ligaments provide stability for the joint. When an athlete makes a sudden lateral move, the force placed on the joint is several times the athlete’s weight. Even slight instability can cause disruption of the ligaments.
Another factor is turf consistency. There are two important factors in adequate turf: resistance and friction. A slippery field or one with an inconsistent base can lead to disaster.
Torn ligaments often require surgical repair after swelling subsides. Any surgery of this nature requires an intense postoperative rehabilitation program.
The remaining question of possible return to previous performance levels is the most difficult to answer.
“Restoring the knee to its original integrity and an athlete returning to their pre-injury activity level are different issues,” said Dr. John Giacchetto, an orthopedic surgeon in Norwich who treats many athletes. “It is difficult to reconstruct the knee to the point where it has the same specifications regarding flexibility and range of motion but many athletes have returned to their previous levels of athletic performance.”
High-level athletes understand that injuries and rehabilitation are part of their profession. Considering Wes Welker’s injury and his work ethic, Patriots’ fans should expect a complete recovery.