Editor’s note: We’ve already seen a number of big-name players in the NFL already ruled out for the season. Here’s an open letter to them from our in-house medical expert, Aaron Borgmann, on what happens next.
I’m sorry you got hurt; I really am.
I never want anyone to lose a season for many different reasons—financial, accrued seasons with the league, playing time.
It’s never fun to see everyone else playing and you cannot, and I get it. Depending on your injury, you’re looking at anywhere from four to 12 months out of playing, enough time to justify not being on the field before the next calendar year. It has most likely been determined that you need surgical intervention at this point or else we wouldn’t be talking about this.
So, what happens now?
The team physicians and athletic trainers, as well as your agent and family, will come to a decision regarding surgery. Who will perform it, when and where it will happen are quite a bit of logistics, especially if it is done out of the town you are playing in. Every team has different requirements and restrictions on how this is done. Some factors that go into it are if the player needs or wants to travel to do surgery, if the player will be staying in town to do rehab or if it requires an extended stay away from the team.
After surgery has been completed, you will most likely begin rehab immediately unless the physician states otherwise. In some cases, there is a wound healing or casted time period, but in most instances, rehab can begin as soon as three days after surgery, sooner if the athlete is having it done in the same town as the team is in.
While the initial time period for most individual’s post-surgery situation is rest for a couple of weeks before beginning rehab, NFL athletes, if able, are rehabbing immediately. The clock is now ticking on their recovery.
In my experience, rehabbing players on injured reserve do not usually attend regularly-scheduled meetings like other players. They may assist in film breakdowns on their own or help with their position coaches as requested, but their job is to now get better and return to football.
As stated previously, every team has different rules and processes. However, most people on IR will be in rehab two to three hours per day and then their responsibilities will be done for the day unless a coach needs them for something or they just like to be in the building. A lunch in the building and a chance to interact with your teammates is always welcome. IR can be a lonely place at times, as you may not attend games and you most likely won’t travel with the team.
I often told guys this is the best time to find a hobby just to keep them busy, and even more so if they were told not to put any weight on the injury for any length of time. IR can be a humbling experience since you don’t have the same team interaction that you previously did. Most chose to purchase a new video game console or a pet, oddly enough.
Day-to-day rehab goes by fast. A quote that I was always told was, “All of a sudden, all at once.”
The meaning is that you are going to look up one day and be ready to go.
The day-to-day grind is grueling, but it is a blink when you look back on it. One typically goes from immobilization to ambulation to function in a hurry. Blink and you are running, jumping and cutting again when you never thought you would be.
While this is a positive thought on the front end, it is hard to believe in the moment. The season rolls on and holidays are used as benchmarks. Soon enough, Christmas is here and if you have been on IR since training camp, you are usually doing well, no matter the condition.
You can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. The great part of being on IR as a player is that you typically get to go home for holidays and enjoy your family and friends when you may normally not have that chance.
Positives that can be taken from this time are abundant. Time as a young player to study the playbook is invaluable, as this essentially is a redshirt. Gaining knowledge of a professional environment and getting the chance of a full year of lifting and conditioning is priceless.
If you get hurt during this time, the chances of you being ready for the regular season next year are so much better. A full offseason program without restrictions with your teammates is a great possibility.
Season’s end will come and those who have advanced far enough through rehab will be deemed good enough to return home to train freely on their own. Those who require more work and rehab will remain at their team’s facility as long as it takes, potentially through the entire offseason.
Coming off season-ending IR and passing that final physical is a relief to all.
This signifies that you have put in the work and done the appropriate steps to be considered ready to go. Practicing for the first time fully is a huge step that many state is welcome soreness and relief from the long journey that they have endured.
It can be a stressful situation on the front end, but it is worth it, and most individuals who put in the work and trust the day to day process appreciate the payoff.