We are going on seven months since Andrew Luck‘s right shoulder surgery and he still isn’t throwing… and he seems tired of being asked about it. What does one make of this? Is he a top five caliber QB still like some are saying? Or is his injury going to inhibit his play or even his early season availability?
I’m no orthopedic specialist, but I am a medical practitioner and I have access to research that is helpful for evaluating Andrew Luck‘s recovery at this point and the chances of him fully recovering in the future.
In order to estimate recovery time you have to know the specifics of the injury. Frankly, the Indianapolis Colts and Andrew Luck haven’t been very forthcoming for the specifics, but what we can gather is that Andrew Luck has had a shoulder injury since 2015 and elected to have a surgical fix in January of 2017 for what appears to be a “labral issue.”
(The labrum is the soft fibrous tissue rim that surrounds the ball and socket joint that is the shoulder.)
Labral issues are not always an indication for required surgery, even when you are dealing with a throwing athlete. Andrew Luck himself is a good example of an athlete that played well with an apparent labral tear as he finished 4th in fantasy points amongst his peers in 2016. However, he was often limited in practice (because of a number of ailments he acquired throughout the year), dealt with pain frequently to his throwing shoulder, and, likely because of this, opted to get surgery in January 2017.
Now to try and address the big question – will Andrew Luck be the QB he was before the shoulder surgery? It is becoming more apparent that Andrew Luck has more than just a frayed labrum, which was the initial assessment. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported from a source in January 2017 that the Colts were expecting, “… a full recovery by mid-July before training camp opens.” If he had some fibers that needed to be cleaned up and snipped off, he would be certainly throwing by now. But if he had a more serious shoulder issue than the Colts are letting on or than the surgeons even knew about before Luck went under the knife, this could account for his delayed recovery. At the very least, I think Luck had a chronic SLAP (superior labrum anterior posterior) tear which required anchoring. This type of surgery, “…typically requires six months and often as long as 12 months to return to throwing… Healing must not be rushed…” (uptodate.com, SLAP tears).
The treatment guidelines for a post-operative rehabilitation is typically divided into three stages:
- Phase 1 (first 6 weeks) – Maximal protection phase
In this phase the patient is usually in a sling and the goal is to keep inflammation and pain minimal. Limited range of motion exercises initially and at the end of the stage there may be some minimal strength exercises are added.
2. Phase 2 (6 – 12 weeks) – Moderate protection phase
The goal in this phase is to regain full range of motion along with some shoulder and biceps exercises as the athlete works to regain full strength.
3. Phase 3 (13 – 26 weeks) – Minimum protection phase
Within this phase the patient may gradually resume throwing and in most cases at weeks 24-28 throwing from a mound (baseball players) may begin. Full shoulder mobility and strength must be achieved before full activity is resumed.
Andrew Luck is about 26 weeks after surgery and there is no indication that he has begun to throw the ball yet. This does not bode well for his return and puts him at least four weeks behind schedule.
Studies indicate that 83 percent of patients reported good-to-excellent results following operative repair, however, only 63 percent of throwing athletes returned to their previous level of play.
Those odds are a bit more daunting as Luck’s recovery continues to be delayed. Keep in mind that Drew Brees, who had potentially a more serious shoulder injury at the end of 2005, had 12 anchors placed in his shoulder and was playing by the first preseason game of 2006 (August 12th). What Drew Brees was able to do was truly amazing, but it appears when an athlete ends up playing well following a surgery, their recovery generally goes well.
August 13th is the Colts first preseason game, less than 3 weeks away, and I think there is little doubt that Andrew Luck will sit for that game. If he isn’t throwing the ball by that time, then don’t expect him to start the season. If he doesn’t start the season opener, then don’t expect him to be the same quarterback that he was in 2016 despite what the trainers or what Andrew Luck says. He may have some good games, but at that point there would be every indication that he is among the 63% of athletes who don’t return to their pre-surgery levels.
Could a sub-par Andrew Luck still be better than say, a Brock Osweiler? Sure, but if his recovery continues to be delayed, temper your expectations and consider drafting someone who holds more potential at less risk.