NFL Injury Report: Aaron Hernandez’s Right Ankle Injury

Each week, RulingSports.com will analyze one NFL player’s injury.  Sports Medicine doctor, Dr. Mandy Huggins (Twitter:  @HugginsMD), will provide medical analysis of the injury.  Alicia Jessop will then break down some of the contract ramifications of the injury.

Dr. Mandy Huggins’ Medical Analysis

Aaron Hernandez, tight end for the New England Patriots, left the week 2 game against the Cardinals with an apparent right ankle injury. He was seen leaving the facility after the game wearing a walking boot and using crutches. Although he did not speak with reporters, there were reports that x-rays were negative (no fracture). This is good news, but one has to wonder if this is a high ankle sprain, which carries a worse prognosis than the “run of the mill” lateral ankle sprain.

To understand a high ankle sprain, one must understand the basic anatomy of the ankle. There are three major ligaments on the lateral, or outside, ankle. These ligaments, the anterior talofibular ligament in particular, are typically injured in an ankle sprain. Injuries to the inside of the ankle are less common. Depending on the severity of a lateral ankle sprain, an athlete can return in as little as 1-2 weeks (longer if more severe). However, in a high ankle sprain, the syndesmosis is injured, which accounts for a much longer recovery period. The syndesmosis is a group of ligaments that connects the tibia and fibula bones in the lower leg. The inferior, or lower, part of the syndesmosis can be torn with this injury. It is known as a “high” ankle sprain because the injury is above the ankle joint. Most are treated non-operatively, but depending upon the degree of tear and/or instability in the area, the injury may require surgery.

Unfortunately, both Matt Forte and Dwight Freeney were also reported to have sustained high ankle sprains in week one. If the reports are true for these athletes, don’t expect to be seeing them any time soon. High ankle sprains can take 6 weeks or longer (sometimes 6 months) to completely heal.

Alicia Jessop’s Contract Analysis

Like Dr. Huggins pointed out, the good news for Hernandez, is that the healing time for this type of injury is relatively short.  However, as of today, a timetable for Hernandez’s return has not been set.

Nonetheless, in terms of his contract, Hernandez is on relatively safe footing.  Earlier this summer, Hernandez signed a contract extension with the Patriots.  Hernandez is still being paid under the terms of his rookie contract.  However, the contract extension keeps him with the Patriots through 2018.  The extension reportedly pays him a $12.5 million signing bonus, $16 million in guaranteed money, and a maximum value of $40 million in additional money.

Thus, given his guaranteed money and signing bonus, Hernandez is financially safe even after suffering this injury.  Given that the injury occurred during the term of his rookie contract, and that a contract extension is already in place, he should feel safe about his tenure with the team.  Nevertheless, given that the Patriots have demonstrated their belief that Hernandez is an integral player on their roster, Hernandez should take all time necessary to fully rehab so that he can return to play at the level he is expected to by the team.

Mandy Huggins, MD is a sports medicine physician who practices in south Florida. She began her education with an undergraduate degree at Purdue University and subsequently received her medical degree from Indiana University. She then went on to complete a residency in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC. Dr. Huggins finished her training with a primary care sports medicine fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta. She is board certified by the ABPMR and holds an added certificate of qualification (CAQ) in Sports Medicine. She blogs regularly at http://www.drmandyhuggins.com.

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