Football Team

Which sports injuries take the longest to recover from?

Football Team
Denver Broncos offensive tackle Calvin Anderson (76) is carted off the field in the first quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High.
USA TODAY Sports

Injuries are one of the worst parts of sports.

The game stops. The crowd quiets. The broadcast cuts to commercial as trainers tend to an athlete writhing in pain.

The first -- and most important -- matter is making sure the competitor is ok. Once the player gets up on their own accord, is helped off the field or gives a thumbs-up, attention shifts to another question: When can the player come back?

Some injuries last a few minutes and the player is right back in the action. Others, however, keep someone out a few days, months or even the remainder of the season. So how much time can fans, coaches and teammates expect a player to miss based on a given injury?

Here are 10 of the most common injuries across sports listed by how long it takes to get back to 100%:

Tommy John surgery

Tommy John surgery is almost exclusively for baseball players. During the procedure, an injured ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) on the inside of the elbow is replaced with a tendon from somewhere else in the patient's body. Rehabilitation can range from six to 15 months with a baseball player's position playing a factor, as pitchers tend to take more time to recover than position players.

 

Here's more on what to expect when recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Torn ACL

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) is a major ligament in the knee. Torn ACLs usually occur from sudden stops or changes in direction, but they can also occur from awkward landings or contact. A torn ACL can take up to 12 months to recover from, but some athletes have returned within eight or nine months in recent years.

Broken leg

A broken tibia-fibula is a fracture in the lower leg that occurs when a fall or impact places more pressure on the lower leg than the bones can withstand. Recovery time depends on the severity of the fracture, but it can take up to a year to fully recover from an extreme break.

Here's more on conditions and treatments for lower leg fractures.

Torn Achilles

An Achilles tendon rupture involves a complete tear of the tendon on the back of your ankle. The injury occurs most often by sudden, forceful motion that stresses the calf muscle. A study presented at the 2017 AOFAS Annual Meeting found that it took NFL players an average of nine months to recover following the injury and that 26% of the 78 players who suffered a ruptured Achilles from 2010 to 2015 did not play again.

For more, check out the NBA’s Achilles tendon rupture tip sheet.

 

Torn patellar tendon

The patellar tendon works with the muscles in the front of the thigh to straighten the leg. It attaches the bottom of the kneecap to the top of the shinbone, and a complete tear separates the tendon from the kneecap. The leg should be able to handle full body weight once again four to six weeks following surgery, but it could take up to six months for a player to return to game action.

Here's more on the anatomy of a patellar tendon tear.

Fractured vertebrae

A vertebral compression fracture occurs when a bone in the spine collapses. The injury takes an athlete out for up to three months. The recovery timetable is shorter if the fracture is small and the spinal segment is stable, and it will be longer if there is a larger fracture and inherent instability. Tony Romo famously dealt with this injury at the tail end of his career with the Dallas Cowboys.

Here's more on the right type of health care of a fractured vertebrae.

Fractured rib

A fractured rib occurs when there is a painful crack or an actual break in a rib. Recovery time could be limited to just two or three weeks if it is a small fracture, but that timeline could also exceed eight weeks depending on the severity, how many fractured ribs an athlete is dealing with and if there is additional injury to any organs.

 

High ankle sprain

While a common ankle sprain can still result in pain and swelling, it hardly compares to a high ankle sprain. A high ankle sprain involves a different set of ligaments, the syndesmosis, and involves more pain even though swelling and bruising are not as prominent. Athletes can return from a high ankle sprain in as little as four to six weeks, but the effects from the injury could last months.

Hamstring strain

There are varying hamstring strains. A grade 1 strain is a mild muscle pull, a grade 2 strain is a partial muscle tear and a grade 3 strain is a complete tear. A low-end strain could take a few days to heal, while a grade 3 strain could take several months.

Here's more on the different grades for hamstring strains.

Concussion

A concussion is a traumatic brain injury in which force causes the head and brain to move rapidly back and forth. Concussions generally take between seven and 14 days to resolve, but there is no set timetable. A recovery timeline increases with any addition concussion the athlete suffers.