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Mary Posani/MEDILL

A breakdown of the most common football injuries.

Injured NFL players recover during two-week break

by Mary Posani
Jan 31, 2013

It’s been two weeks since Super Bowl XLVII teams Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers last played and that time off may be just what the doctor ordered.

As of Thursday, 26 players are listed with various injuries on the teams’ injury reports.  With the Super Bowl only three days away, medical staffs are working closely with the players to decide whether the two week break was enough time for the injured players to heal.

“The two-week [break] for injured players is really a good thing. They are getting access to athletic trainers and their team physical therapists for treatment two, three, four times a day,” said Jeff Hay, athletic trainer for Athletico Physical Therapy and former assistant athletic trainer for the Chicago Bears. “Now if you can add extra days for that treatment, it can speed up the healing process at the highest possible degree and get them back and be active in practice."

On Wednesday, the 15 injured Ravens players were considered “questionable,” meaning there is a 50 percent chance that they may sit on the bench. Only one of the 12 injured 49ers had the same status. The other 11 were “probable,” meaning they have a 75 percent chance of playing. This list of players’ status has not been updated again.

Representatives from the 49ers and Ravens could not be reached for comment regarding players’ injuries, but experts say the course of treatment is consistent all season.

Dr. Craig Bennett, previously an associate team physician with the Pittsburgh Steelers, said the magnitude of the game does not change what medical staff does to prepare for the game.

“It’s a coordinated effort between the trainer, the orthopedic physicians, the primary care physicians, and the strength coach. Those four persons are intimately involved in doing what they’ve been doing since July or August,” said Bennett, now head orthopedic surgeon and chief of sports medicine at University of Maryland Medical Center. “NFL coaches and teams in the college level as well, take it one game at a time. So even though that’s a cliché and even though this is a bigger game, the approach is still going to be the same.”

Of the 26 injured players listed on the reports, 11 have shoulder injuries. Other injuries, include knee, ankle, foot, elbow and triceps, chest, thigh and back, though details are vague.

The two-week break is plenty of time for players to recover from any sprains and strains that occurred during the season without hindering their conditioning for the bowl.

“Having that extra week can be very beneficial because it hasn’t gone back out and been re-aggravated,” Bennett said. “You’ve had the extra week where you can take it a little easier on the injury.”

Players also make sure they receive proper nutrition and stretching routines, to help a speedy recovery. Dr. Sara Brown, sports medicine physician at Chicago Primary Care Sports Medicine, said amino acids, which can help rebuild muscles, and a multivitamin should be incorporated into a well-balanced diet.

During the season, it is normal for players to regularly take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen, Tylenol and Aleve, to decrease inflammation and swelling, Bennett said.  Before the Super Bowl, however, players may take an oral prednisone, a prescription steroid and stronger anti-inflammatory medication.

“It is one more game and it is a big game, they will probably increase the intensity of anti-inflammatory medicine,” Bennett said. “The thing that would be a little more liberal with use is taking some oral prednisone a week before the game in order to significantly decrease inflammation and swelling.”

Brown said injured players need to listen to their bodies tell them how severe the pain is.  SHe agrees that if the pain is severe, a prednisone may be the best course of action to take, but advises avoiding pain relievers.

“If you just use a pain reliever it can only mask the pain and cause further harm,” Brown said.

The teams’ medical staff, the player and coaches together make the final decision as to whether he will compete in the Super Bowl.

“It’s the last game of the year, every player wants to play,” Hay said. “But it really comes down to the medical team making sure that if this person plays, it’s not putting them at risk for permanent damage that impacts their career.”