Watching the NFL draft, I was curious to see where Jaylon Smith would get drafted. Being a Notre Dame alum, I had watched him for 3 years and expected him to be a top 5 draft pick. This all changed on January 1st, 2016 when Jaylon tore his ACL , LCL and injured his peroneal nerve playing against Ohio State.
Athletes, unfortunately, tear ligaments all the time and orthopedic surgery has progressed to the point where these injuries are not always career threatening. However, nerve injuries, especially the common peroneal nerve (CPN), typically lead to bad outcomes.
The CPN is most vulnerable to injury at the level of the fibular head on the leg. Just beneath the fibular head, the nerve divides into a superficial peroneal nerve responsible for innervating the lateral compartment (muscles responsible for moving your foot outside) and the deep peroneal nerve (muscles responsible for lifting your foot and toes). If you injure the CPN, people develop a “foot drop” or the inability to lift their foot.
Typically, if nerves aren’t cut in half or injured mildly (stretch injury), the nerve can potentially heal itself. Nerve healing occurs at 1mm/day or 3 cm/ month which is about a 1 inch a month. If you measure the distance from your knee to the toes (depending how tall you are), this is about 25-30 inches. If you do the math, recovery could take as long as 2 years.
Ultimately, I hope Jaylon Smith recovers and returns to playing football with the Dallas Cowboys. His injury was not your typical “ACL” and you can see why other teams avoided drafting him. Hopefully, with the advancement of orthopedic science, these injuries can be treated and athletes return to full activities.
-Dr. Paul Saiz
Las Cruces, New Mexico