Psychological Aspect Is Toughest Barrier For Running Back Returning From Torn ACL

Dr. Neil Ghodadra, a noted orthopedic surgeon, joined Jason Smith Wednesday on NFL Network to discuss Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and his recovery from a torn ACL suffered last season. The same analysis that Ghodadra gave on Peterson can also be applied to Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall, who tore his right ACL in the regular season finale against the Cleveland Browns last year.

Of course the general time frame that we all hear usually is 7 to 9 months with running backs, and Ghodadra puts the minimum needed time frame basically right in the middle at 8 months. That minimum time frame is also based on if the player is able to handle the psychological aspects of returning that soon if healed.

When asked about the recovery time for Peterson specifically, Ghodadra said, “Studies have shown that NFL running backs usually get back to playing at about ten and a half months after the injury.”

“Now Adrian Peterson is kind of a freak of nature in terms of his athletic ability and I think that he\’ll be able to start training camp,” said Ghodadra. He continued, “But what\’s key for us is to kind of look at what he\’s doing and how\’s he running in order for us to tell how good he\’s going to be.”

Smith next asked the doctor if being a freak is enough to allow Peterson to be ready by week one and better than anybody else. “No. And that\’s a good point that you raise,” said Ghodadra. “I think you still need eight months at least to get through this injury and I think the biggest factor with this is psychologically, actually.”

Smith asked if the psychological aspect is what can block Peterson the most from being the back he normally is upon his return. “Absolutely. Most NFL running backs do really well their second year back from an ACL injury,” said Ghodadra. “The first year back is the most difficult, not only because you don\’t feel like your knee is stable, but it gets very difficult to make hard cutting maneuvers, because you\’re always concerned you\’re going to re-tear it. And you can always tear the other knee.”

Lastly Smith asked if it would also be tougher on Peterson because he has a more upright, violent running style along with his ability to cut. “Absolutely. No question about it. The ACL is meant for cutting. So if you have a player like Adrian Peterson, who relies on cutting in addition to his power, and that\’s a very violent and explosive, twisting injury – or force to the knee,” said Ghodadra. “So for him to have that force in his knee, he mentally has to be ready to do it. And generally, the first year back from these kind of injuries, players don\’t have it.”

Now when you look at all of this as it relates to Mendenhall, who had his ACL surgery performed in the middle part of January, the eight month mark puts him right at about the middle of September. That is if Mendenhall is not only ready physically, but psychologically as well. Fellow Steelers running back Baron Batch, who tore his ACL late in training camp last year, has talked recently about still having to build trust in his surgically repaired knee late in the Steelers 2012 offseason program. At that time Batch was right at about the 10 month mark or so removed from his surgery when he made his comments about his knee.

So the 10 and half month time frame that Ghodadra mentioned at the beginning of his interview is indeed the most likely scenario for a Mendenhall return, which would put him coming back right around week 12 or week 13 of the season realistically. That time frame just so happens to be at the back end of the allotted time he can remain on the PUP list, if the Steelers use the allotted PUP time frames properly as stated in the rules. Remember that PUP rules state that he has a three week window in which he must return to practice following week 6 of the season and the second three week window begins the week that he returns to practice.

Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has mentioned several times this offseason how he is never fully comfortable with a running back coming off an ACL injury until a year after it happens, so it figures that they will not rush Mendenhall back in any way, and especially if Isaac Redman and the other stable of running backs are carrying the load adequately.

The toughest aspect, that I have posted about before, is the fact that Mendenhall is entering his final year under contract and is scheduled to count nearly $3.5 million against the salary cap this year. That\’s a double whammy for sure and a big risk as well. Any sort of a setback for Mendenhall would surely shelve him for the rest of season and there is a chance that the former first round draft pick might want to test the waters in free agency as an unrestricted free agent.

The best case scenario, in my opinion, is that Mendenhall is fully recovered both physically and mentally come week 12 or 13 and eased into action upon his return. He would hopefully then be fresh for a committee type role heading into the playoffs.

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