Ameer Abdullah is healthy now and appears to be a full participant during the Detroit Lions’ current organized team activities, but in a recent interview he revealed just how serious his injury was last season.
Abdullah’s season ended just six quarters into the 2016 NFL season when he appeared to go down with a non-contact injury to his foot against the Tennessee Titans. The Lions, like with all of their players’ injuries, were very protective of any information surrounding the injury. However, coach Jim Caldwell did admit that Abdullah underwent surgery in September, resulting in the back being placed on the injured reserve list. Now we finally know why.
In an interview with Adam Carriker, former NFL defensive end and fellow Nebraska Huskers alum, Abdullah revealed he had suffered the dreaded Lisfranc injury. “I had a tear in my Lisfranc in the second game of the season against the Tennessee Titans. Separated my foot,” Abdullah said.
So now that we know the injury, let’s lay out what that means.
What is a Lisfranc injury?
A Lisfranc injury is basically a tear to the midfoot ligament and in severe cases—typically the kind that result in surgery—fractures to midfoot bones. The separation that Abdullah is referring to is the connection between the metatarsal bones at the front of the foot with the bones at the heel. It’s unclear if Abdullah additionally suffered broken bones, as surgery may also be required for severe dislocation of joints in the foot.
How long is the recovery?
Like most rehabilitation, recovery time is largely based on severity of the injury. Sometimes it only takes weeks, but it can take up to a full year to fully recover in the most serious cases. Because surgery was required, Abdullah certainly falls toward the longer end of the spectrum, but with modern medicine recovery is possible within 4-6 months:
Lisfranc injury=mid-foot sprain— David J. Chao, MD (@ProFootballDoc) August 2, 2016
Return depends on severity
moderate=month or more
severe=surgery, 4-6 mos https://t.co/oVJBDXPu6l
Are there any dangers of relapse or complications?
Unfortunately, yes. Abdullah says in the interview above that he’s “100 percent,” but that doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods yet. Dave Siebert, physician at University of Washington, describes a complication known as midfoot osteoarthritis:
Even in the best-case scenario, midfoot osteoarthritis can develop following Lisfranc injuries—especially after those requiring surgery. The dreaded complication is chronic, progressive and can produce significant stiffness and chronic pain, drastically reducing the foot's functionality. Without optimal foot strength and flexibility, making a career as a running back in the NFL can become quite difficult—if not impossible.
How have athletes with Lisfranc injuries fared in the past?
There have been a few high-profile Lisfranc injuries in the NFL, with varying results. Le’Veon Bell suffered a relatively minor Lisfranc injury during the preseason in his rookie year. He was able to return to the lineup by Week 4 and has had a pretty illustrious career since.
Bears tight end Zach Miller had a more serious injury in 2014 that required surgery and caused him to miss the entire season. Miller rebounded in 2015, playing in 15 games while hauling in a career-high 439 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Miller was on his way to improving upon those numbers again in 2016, but ended up breaking the exact same foot 10 games into the season.
Here’s the good news: The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania did a study on the impact of Lisfranc injuries in the NFL and found that the injury did not significantly impact the length of a career, nor the level of play post-injury. From PennMedicine.org:
“It is important to note that 14 of the 28 players produced an offensive or defensive power rating in at least one post-injury season that exceeded their pre-injury level of play, demonstrating that minimally, a return to pre-injury performance is possible,” said co-senior author Brian J. Sennett, MD, chief of Sports Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania.
In other words, half of the players in the (admittedly small) study were able to perform better after the injury, for at least one season, than their performance before the injury.
Overall, it appears Abdullah is among those that could certainly improve upon his pre-injury numbers. Ameer is still very young and has had over eight months to rehab at this point. As long as he can avoid arthritis in his foot, there’s no reason not to expect a full recovery for the 2017 season.