On Tuesday, Sheldon Rankins underwent surgery by Dr. Robert Anderson to repair his broken fibula suffered in Monday’s New Orleans Saints practice. The initial timeframe given for Rankins’ recovery is 6-8 weeks from his procedure. However, what does the prognosis look like?
After speaking to Hospital for Special Surgery, which is the official hospital for team physicians for professional sports, I was able to gain some insight. The orthopedic surgeons handle many professional teams, including the New York Giants.
John Kennedy, MD, a foot and ankle surgeon, spoke with me on Rankins’ outlook.
What is typically involved with the recovery process for this type of injury? How soon until a player starts rehab?
Typically a fibular fracture is treated with screws and plates, which allows for primary bone healing. The typical amount of time for the bone to unite is six weeks. Traditionally, that required at least 4-6 weeks in a cast but rehab can now be done in a more aggressive fashion allowing early controlled motion and graduated weight bearing. This maintains not only motion but proprioception or balance which is key to any athlete.
The typical course now is two weeks in a splint allowing the wound to heal followed by three to four weeks in a boot that can be removed to allow early rehab. Altered gravity training is now a huge benefit to athletes allowing normal motion in a weightless or semi-weightless environment. At six weeks, if the x-ray shows solid bony union, the player can start sport-specific rehab. Each patient and each fracture has its own unique character so these are just simple guidelines and do not reflect Sheldon Rankins injury who I have neither treated nor seen his x-ray.
Given that Rankins is a defensive tackle, how can this injury impact his play? (Like pushing off, leverage, etc.)
Once there is solid bony union, and he has rehabbed successfully there should be no impact on a player regardless of his position.
What is the likelihood of a reinjuring and success rate of these type of procedures? Any long-term issues?
Success is well over 90% but all surgery carries inherent risk. These risks would not be expected to be increased with a professional athlete. The risks can be mitigated by choosing an excellent surgeon, which Rankins has done with Dr. Anderson. Any fracture that involves the joint carries the long-term risk of cartilage damage and as such is more predisposed to post traumatic arthritis. This is typically a long-term effect and would not be expected to interfere with an NFL career.
How often do you see these type of injuries in football players?
Fibular fractures are common. They are seen frequently in high energy sports and patients typically get back to their normal level of activity.
Hospital for Special Surgery is nationally ranked #1 in orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report (2016-2017), and is a world leader in sports medicine performance and rehabilitation.
While Rankins deals with the road to recovery, free agent veteran Nick Fairley will insert himself as the team’s starting defensive tackle alongside Tyeler Davison. The good news for the New Orleans Saints is that Rankins could be back in full action after the team’s Week 5 bye.