ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The Michigan football team wasn’t immune from the injury bug this season.
Cornerback Jourdan Lewis sat out Michigan’s first three games with a muscle strain and a back issue. Defensive tackle Bryan Mone missed three games with an MCL sprain. But three players who sustained catastrophic knee injuries made up Michigan’s most glaring losses, including two players who sustained ACL tears.
Michigan lost cornerback Jeremy Clark to a season-ending ACL tear Sept. 24 against Penn State, then lost offensive lineman Grant Newsome on Oct. 1 to a season-ending injury to his right knee and leg that kept him hospitalized for more than a month. (Michigan has not specified Newsome’s injury.)
Then, in the first half of the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30, Michigan tight end Jake Butt sustained an injury to his right knee when he was hit by Florida State defensive back Trey Marshall at the Seminoles 6-yard line.
While he walked off the field at Hard Rock Stadium under his own power, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the game that Butt tore either his ACL or MCL. Harbaugh didn’t discuss further specifics regarding Butt’s injury, but ESPN reported Butt will need to undergo surgery for his second ACL tear in less than three years.
With two confirmed ACL tears this season (and possibly a third), Michigan has had at least 11 players sustain ACL tears over the last five seasons. The American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2015 reported that an estimated 200,000 ACL-related injuries occur annually in the United States, with approximately 95,000 ACL ruptures. Additionally, 100,000 ACL reconstructions are performed each year.
The anterior cruciate ligament is one of the main stabilizing ligaments in the knee, which helps with rotational and transitional stability. An athlete can sustain an ACL tear through either a contact injury or a non-contact injury; for example, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sustained an ACL and MCL (medial collateral ligament) tear in the 2008 NFL season opener, while Wes Welker sustained an ACL and MCL tear when he landed after a catch, planted his foot and turned during a 2009 game with the Patriots.
“Football has a mixture of both types of injuries because it’s a contact sport,” said Dr. Eric Makhni, a sports medicine orthopaedic surgeon with the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit. “Tom Brady sustained a contact injury, while Wes Welker’s was a non-contact injury.”
Michigan’s rash of ACL tears over the last 5 1/2 years could simply be bad luck. Still, three major knee injuries in a season — including two confirmed ACL tears — isn’t anything to overlook, and Butt’s injury could be costly. Literally.
Prior to the Orange Bowl, Butt was projected as a potential first-round pick, though ESPN reported that his family took out an insurance policy that would pay $2 million if he drops below a second-round pick in the NFL draft in April.
Jake Butt took out $4M in total disability insurance. Took out $2M in loss of value insurance, would start collecting after Rd 2.
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 31, 2016
While the initial injury occurs quickly, reconstructive surgery lasts between an hour and 90 minutes. Reconstructive ACL surgery uses a tendon graft from the patient’s own knee — usually a patellar or hamstring tendon — and the tendon is placed in the same orientation as an ACL. Following surgery, the patient’s body has to form a new ligament from the graft, and the muscles around the ligament have to strengthen and stabilize that new ligament.
Rehabilitation, however, is lengthy. Makhni said the earliest target for an athlete to return to competition is six months, but it’s commonly closer to nine months.
“That’s assuming you hit the clinical milestones that determine strength, balance and stability,” Makhni said.
A general timeline for ACL reconstructive surgery and recovery
- 4-6 weeks following surgery: wear a knee brace.
- 3 months after surgery: begin inline jogging or running
- 5 months after surgery: begin sport-specific activity
- At least 6 months after surgery: Resume full athletic/sport-specific activity
A 2014 study by the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine found that 82 percent of FBS football players (151 in a study of 184 participants) return after reconstructive ACL surgery, and an ACL tear is no longer considered a catastrophic injury for athletes.
Makhni said there’s no proven common denominator between the number of knee injuries in a football program, other than the fact that 11 players have been in the same program. But there are anatomical elements that could increase an individual’s chance of an ACL tear.
“There’s been some research that’s been done looking at the angles that the knee makes in relation to the hip and foot, and anatomy could predispose people to ACL tears,” Makhni said. “There are also neuromuscular components with the way someone lands that can predispose to ACL tears.”
Also, with a large roster in football, the chances of team having a player sustain any kind of injury increases.
“A lot of it,” former Michigan coach Brady Hoke said in 2014, after Michigan lost Butt to his first ACL tear, “is just bad luck.”
Current and former Michigan players who have sustained ACL tears since 2012
|Player||Date of injury|
|Chris Wormley, DL||August 2012|
|Blake Countess, CB||September 2012|
|Jake Ryan, LB||March 2013|
|Drake Johnson, RB||August 2013|
|Joey Burzynski, OL||October 2013|
|Ondre Pipkins, DL||October 2013|
|Jake Butt, TE||February 2014|
|Russell Bellomy, QB||March 2014|
|Drake Johnson, RB||November 2014|
|Jeremy Clark, CB||September 2016|
|Jake Butt, TE||December 2016|