For better or for worse, Twitter has given us direct access to former NFL doctors who have seemingly found a post-doctor career by giving their medical opinion on football injuries based on game footage and rumored diagnoses. Using these opinions can set a dangerous precedent, especially when opinions are given based on only conjecture and no physical examination.
But when you’re dealing with a franchise like the Detroit Lions—who are sure to give you no information about an injury—and the player with the injury is someone as essential as Matthew Stafford, you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to get any information at all.
Adam Schefter’s report suggests that Stafford dislocated the middle finger of his right (throwing) hand, tearing multiple ligaments. USA TODAY’s Tom Pelissero agrees that early indications point to the same diagnosis, but the Lions will seek further examinations on Monday.
If that diagnosis holds true, what does that mean for Stafford? Here’s where the “Twitter doctors” come in.
Dr. David Chao, a former NFL head doctor for 17 years*, seems optimistic about Stafford’s ability to overcome the injury:
He goes into further detail in this Periscope recorded on Sunday night. Here’s a transcript on the part regarding Stafford.
“I do believe it is just the middle finger. Don’t freak out about torn ligaments. It is normal to have torn ligaments when you dislocate a finger. Derek Carr tore ligaments, undoubtedly. Yes, he had a bad game against the Chiefs in cold weather, but he finished strong with a good second half the first game he hurt it and played well the next game. I don’t think that little finger is that big of a deal.
Middle finger is very similar, depends on the grip. But I don’t see it being a big affect on Matthew Stafford going forward. Sorry if I alarmed you about the thumb, Adam Schefter is awesome. When I saw something about a thumb, I almost freaked out. If it’s a thumb, it’s a huge deal. If it’s the middle finger, don’t worry about the torn ligament. It’s not going to need surgery. If it’s a tendon or it’s the thumb, it would be a big deal, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
That all sounds very good, but there’s a very important, very concerning note here from Chao and it’s a portion of that last sentence: If it’s a tendon, it would be a big deal.
Though reports only indicate a dislocation and ligament tear at the moment, Dr. Jene Bramel, part-time pediatrician and part-time NFL injury blogger smells something fishy:
Stafford reports confusing. Hearing torn ligament and middle finger joint -- but also no control over tip of finger. Doesn't add up.— Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel) December 12, 2016
Stafford's comments about tip of finger injury sound more like tendon and small joint. Much tougher to manage than finger joint dislocation.— Jene Bramel (@JeneBramel) December 12, 2016
Bramel is basically saying the diagnosis doesn’t exactly meet up with the self-reported symptom from Stafford. Stafford didn’t actually talk about anything specific with his injury, but in Schefter’s report it says that Stafford “had no control over the top part of digit.” Bramel is saying if that is true, that doesn’t line up with a diagnosis of a dislocation in the middle finger joint.
Instead, he is saying that the reported symptoms—which, again, have not been confirmed by Stafford himself—are more in line with a tendon injury, which is what Chao warned is a much more serious injury.
At this point, we just have to play the wait and see game. The initial reports from Schefter are actually promising, as it seems a dislocation and ligament tear isn’t too impactful on a quarterback’s play. However, if future testing reveals a tendon problem, the Lions could be facing a serious problem going forward.
*It’s worth noting that Chao’s time in the NFL was mired in controversy. He was sued several times and the NFLPA eventually demanded he step down from his position.