If timetables were assured, then Tim Hightower would have been a productive NFL running back in 2012. If the six-to-nine month recovery period projected for his left knee ACL reconstruction went as promised, then we wouldn’t necessarily know Alfred Morris to be a burgeoning star in the Washington Redskins‘ backfield. Hightower, though, understands the reality of rehabilitation from major knee surgery.
“In life,” he said, “there is no guarantees.”
He learned that by being forced to observe the 2012 football season. While his former team completed an historic turnaround that culminated with the NFC East division championship, he continued to rehabilitate a knee injury that leaves him unemployed 16 months after he injured it on an otherwise forgettable 4-yard carry.
As doctors expect Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to rehabilitate his surgically repaired right knee ligaments and meniscus in time for the 2013 season, Hightower is proof that timetables are nothing more than frameworks established by precedents.
“One thing I did learn and I’m learning: every ACL, every knee surgery is not the same,” Hightower said. “Different guys’ bodies respond different ways to different things.”
Peterson tore the ACL and medial collateral ligament and damaged the medial and lateral meniscus in his left knee against the Redskins on Christmas Eve 2011, about six yards from where Griffin’s knee finally gave out at FedEx Field two Sundays ago.
Dr. James Andrews, the same surgeon who operated on Griffin last week, performed Peterson’s and Hightower’s knee surgeries. Peterson returned to play in all 16 games this season and came within nine yards of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record of 2,015 yards.
However, experts caution that Peterson is more of an exception than an example athletes and fans should expect athletes to replicate.
“The Adrian Petersons of the world are unusual, who perform at that high of a level starting at eight months after surgery,” said Rick Wright, professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at Washington University’s School of Medicine and the head team physician for the NHL’s St. Louis Blues. He is the principal investigator of a leading ACL revision study that’s funded by the National Institutes of Health.
“The athletes will tell you that they really kind of feel back to normal and stop thinking about their knee so much at about 12 months,” said Wright, who has not examined Griffin.
Wright noted that even Peterson performed at a higher level as the season progressed and time distanced him from his surgery date.