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Analyzing the injuries to Chiefs Harrison Butker and Trent McDuffie

How long might it take for these players to recover from their soft-tissue injuries?

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the NFL and its players union dramatically altered how teams could run their practices. Rule changes included limiting the number of offseason practices, eliminating two-a-day practices during training camp and putting a limit on full-contact practices during the season.

While these changes were made in an effort to improve player health and safety, they may have had the opposite effect.

A significant number of injuries have taken place in the early weeks of recent seasons. Some of these could be attributed to poor conditioning or a lack of preparation to withstand the forces required for professional football. Many of them are soft-tissue injuies.

Soft tissue is more adaptive to change and stress under conditions of low force and long duration — neither of which are normal conditions during professional football games. Once the rigors of the regular season begin, soft tissue that is not properly conditioned for the high forces that will be placed upon it may be damaged.

These types of injuries have had an impact on the Kansas City Chiefs at the beginning of the 2022 campaign. Let’s take a closer look at the ones sustained by two marquee players.

Cornerback Trent McDuffie

Going into Week 2, the rookie corner was placed on the Reserve/Injured (injured reserve) list after suffering a hamstring strain during the team’s 44-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals. He will become eligible to return after the team has played four games.

Strains are typically graded on a scale from I to III (mild to severe with complete tear). It is important to remember, however, that all strains involve tears of soft tissue in some way. Given that McDuffie has already been placed on IR, we can guess that the strain was more significant — either Grade II or III.

The hamstrings muscle group consists of three muscles. The largest is the biceps femoris, followed by the semitendinosus and semimembranous muscles.

The biceps femoris is the muscle most commonly strained. Injuries usually occur during the eccentric phase of the muscle’s contraction (when the tendon is lengthening), which commonly occurs when players are slowing down after a sprint.

Since we’re now in the first two weeks following the injury, McDuffie and his athletic trainers are likely working on range-of-motion, inflammation control and pain management through the use of an underwater treadmill and/or a stationary bicycle. Depending on the severity of the injury, stretching and early-phase strengthening could also be taking place.

Over the coming weeks, eccentric strengthening progression will likely be done to prepare McDuffie for his return. Without being close to the situation, it is difficult to know the prognosis for him to return to the team for Week 6’s game against the Buffalo Bills, which is the earliest date where he could be returned from IR. Depending on the rehab progression, it is possible McDuffie may not return to the field until late October or early November.

Placekicker Harrison Butker

Also against the Cardinals, Butker suffered what appeared to be a classic lateral ankle sprain.

The most common type of ankle sprain, it occurs with forceful inversion of the ankle, causing damage to structures on the outside of the ankle. With his ankle taped for improved stability, Butker was able to return to the game and (amazingly) kick a one-step 54-yard field goal — although following the kick, his gait was noticeably painful. The fact he was able to return to the field to kick — when the Chiefs were leading — indicates a mild sprain.

Complicating recovery, however, is that the ankle in question is Butker’s ‘plant’ leg. Extra stability is needed, because the forces applied through that ankle place increased stress on the ligaments already injured. Barring setbacks in his rehab, it is likely that Butker returns to the field in the next one or two weeks — especially considering the 10-day mini-bye following Thursday Night Football. But if Matt Amendola continues to be reliable in his relief role, the Chiefs may elect to let Butker recover longer.

Bumped and bruised from Los Angeles Chargers game

The Chiefs appeared to escape the short week relatively unscathed. In his post-game press conference, head coach Andy Reid acknowledged injuries to defensive end Mike Danna (calf strain) and wide receivers Mecole Hardman (ankle), Marquez Valdes-Scantling (glute), and Justin Watson (shoulder). He characterized all of them as minor.

From watching the game, it appeared that Hardman’s injury could be most significant, based on the high ankle mechanism upon landing — but he was able to return to the game, too. Like Butker, all of these players will have more time to recover in the longer week leading up to the Week 3 Indianapolis Colts game; there shouldn’t be a major concern for them missing playing time.

These injuries suffered during the young 2022 season have been a challenge for the Chiefs to overcome — but thus far, the team has succeeded. Other players have showcased the depth of the team. Safety Justin Reid (and Amendola) successfully filled in for Butker, while Jaylen Watson made the play of his young career stepping in for McDuffie.

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