At a Glance –
Player: Sterling Shepard
Position: Wide Receiver
Team: New York Giants
Injury: ACL tear
Projected Recovery Time: 6-12+ months (out for the season).
The Giants have been somewhat surprising this season, and though it’s only week 4, a winning record is a winning record. The Giants did suffer a big loss during last week’s game against Dallas, and I don’t just mean losing against the Cowboys. During the last minutes of the game, the Giants wideout, Sterling Shepard, was running down the field and then was suddenly on the ground – without any clear mechanism of injury. Reports later confirmed that Shepard suffered a non-contact ACL tear, meaning he is facing another season-ending injury. He will be getting surgery in the upcoming weeks. ACL tears are very common among football players, resulting from rotational stresses, sudden changes of direction, and/or poor landing mechanics, and the recovery requires surgery and months of physical therapy. The ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is a key stabilizing structure in the knee that limits the forward movement of the tibia on the femur, and without the ACL, it is much more difficult for the surrounding structures to maintain knee stability, especially in weight bearing. NFL players are elite athletes that have to be able to withstand crazy physical stresses on the body, meaning knee stability is essential to perform well and avoid further injury, and for this reason, most NFL players opt to get ACL reconstruction surgery. This surgery, however, takes months to recover from (and a lot of rehab), meaning the Giants will have to make do without Shepard.
During the ACL reconstruction surgery, tissue is taken from the tendon of the quadriceps, hamstrings, or patella and anchored to the tibia and femur, providing similar stability as the original ACL. However, it takes up to two years for the new “ligament”, or graft, to fully resemble a normal ACL. Physical therapy starts just days after surgery. The first few weeks of rehab will focus on improving pain levels, decreasing swelling, and recovering range of motion and quad muscle strength, and around the 3-month mark, a person can finally be cleared to run. Strengthening of the quad, glutes, and hamstrings will be prioritized during sessions to improve lower body control and eliminate any muscle imbalances that may have contributed to the initial injury. The later phases of rehab will focus on proper technique with cutting, pivoting, and single-leg activities, with an emphasis on proper landing mechanics and dynamic balance. Protection of the graft is the biggest priority throughout rehab, as well as decreasing the risk of re-injury, which unfortunately can be common after the initial injury. Though NFL players are outstanding athletes, recovery after ACL reconstruction will take at least 6 months because the healing and remodeling of the graft will follow that 2-year timeline despite any strengthening or balance training efforts. Therefore, if Shepard has no complications post-op, he will likely be ready to participate on a limited basis in OTAs and camp in anticipation of the 2023 season. Oftentimes, ACL tears are accompanied by damage to other structures in the knee that may not be reported, and if this is the case, recovery will be prolonged. Whether he is back in 6 or even 12 months, it is clear that the 2022 season is finished for him, and he will spend a good amount of time with his PT to get back on the field. In the meantime, the Giants can continue their efforts in maintaining this winning record, which might be a little tough with the Eagles being in their division.
In this video, the 3DPT demonstrates a few exercises that could be incorporated into a rehab program for an ACL tear.
Early Stage: Standing terminal knee extension with alternating leg extension
Late Stage: Single leg assisted pistol squat
Return to Sport: T-test Drill
Categorized as: 2022 NFL Blog