Every time they step onto the field or the court, athletes know there’s a risk of injury—and potentially serious ones.
Players work hard in the gym when they train to put themselves in a position where they decrease the risk of injuries. Whether it be through stretching, exercise techniques, or nutrition, all athletes try and minimize the chances of suffering an injury.
But no matter how hard you train, an injury can happen at any time and often without warning. Perhaps you take too quick a cut around a defender, or don’t see that linebacker coming at your back, or slip while charging at a fly ball—your season or your career could end in a snap.
Here are five serious injuries that athletes deal with that you can’t heal with just an ice pack.
Notable Athletes: Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Chipper Jones, Keenan Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, Adrian Peterson
Estimated Recovery Time: 8 to 12 months
ACL injuries are common in all sports, but football players deal with these quite a bit. The reason that torn ACLs happen in sports so much is because they can be caused by quick changes in direction, something most athletes have to deal with. In activities that are debilitating to the knees like football and basketball, athletes can see a heightened risk of the injury. The anterior cruciate ligament provides 90% of the leg’s stability and is essential to dynamic movement.
The tell-tale “pop” of the ligament (and accompanying pain) means the end of your season and the beginning of approximately a year of rehab before a full recovery is possible. Adrian Peterson suffered a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee during the 2011 season and after that, many wondered if he would ever return to football—and if he did, if he would ever be the same. Well, AP shut everyone up on this one: He was back in the lineup just 10 months after suffering the injury and went on to have one of the best seasons in NFL history, rushing for over 2,000 yards.
But Peterson is an outlier on this one—very often athletes need the full recovery time for this injury.
Notable Athletes: Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Sidney Crosby, Mike Piazza
Estimated Recovery Time: Varies by athlete/severity
Concussions have received heightened attention across all sports, but they remain a common risk for athletes and the recovery time can vary depending on the situation. In the past, many coaches and players simply shrugged them off and kept on playing, but the reality is that they can have a number of significant impacts on athletes, including loss of vision, memory issues, and motor function problems. Concussions can force players to retire if they are severe enough and that has caused leagues like the NFL and MLB to adopt new protocols and policies when it comes to head injuries.
Torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament - Tommy John Surgery
Estimated Recovery Time: 12 to 18 months
Throwing a baseball at 90 mph is not a thing that the human body was built to do—so it’s not a surprise that picthers deal with all types of injuries to their throwing arms. For a long period time, tearing your UCL meant your career likely would be over, but everything changed when pitcher Tommy John and Dr. Frank Jobe teamed after John suffered the injury in 1974. Jobe performed what was considered to be an “experimental” procedure, taking the replacing the ligament in the elbow of John’s pitching arm with a tendon from his right forearm.
John was able to continue pitching, winning over 150 games and sparking other pitchers to undergo the same procedure. Some pitchers weren’t always able to make it back, but as the years went by, technology and understanding behind the procedure got better and better. Things advanced so much that it has become a routine procedure and many players have been able to come back and flourish. The late Jose Fernandez returned stronger than ever from the surgery, while players like Wainwright, Smoltz, Hudson, and Harvey all were able to get their careers back on track after having the procedure. Even with the advanced measures, the most resilient arms still face a year and a half of rehab before attempting a comeback.
Notable Athletes: Tony Romo, Kevin Everett, Michael Irvin, Steve Austin, Cam Newton
Estimated Recovery Time: Potentially Career Ending
Back injuries are some of the most serious in sports and one of the most frightening ailments is a fractured vertebrae, which can affect a person’s ability to move and perform on the field. Both Cam Newton and Tony Romo have suffered injuries to their vertebrae, but both were able to make full recoveries—in fact, Newton led his team to the playoffs after suffering his in 2014. Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett suffered the injury early in the 2007 season, ending his career and casting doubt on his ability to walk again, but thankfully, Kevin made a full recovery. Either way, this injury is one of the scariest that any athlete can deal with.
Notable Athletes: Reggie Bush, Joe Theismann, Kendrys Morales, Conor Shaw, E.J. Henderson
Estimated Recovery Time: Varies by situation
The tibia—the main bone in your leg—is the strongest weight-bearing bone in the human body. It’s approximately four times as strong as concrete, so basically it’s very difficult for athletes to break it. But when it does happen, it can be a crippling injury and sometimes players can’t make it back from it. The snap of the bone is something that athletes know the sound of, so when it happens on the field, everyone takes a knee and prays.
Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann suffered one of the most famous—and gruesome—broken leg injuries in the history of sports in 1985 when he was taken down by legendary Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor. Theismann said that “(his) leg from the knee down was completely numb” and it later forced his early retirement from the NFL.