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Recovery time 9-12 months for ACL injuries like Winston's: doctor

The ACL is a ligament deep inside the knee. The MCL is a ligament on the inner outside of the knee joint. They are two of four ligaments that hold the joint together

NEW ORLEANS — Now that we are learning more about Jameis Winston's knee injury, what does that mean from the medical and rehab perspective?

We wanted to better understand what lies ahead for Jameis, so we talked to one of the leading knee doctors in the area.

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton revealed that he cried when he saw quarterback Jameis Winston on crutches in the locker room. He told saints fans before medical confirmation, that his starting QB's injury was significant. 

Monday we learned just how significant that injury is.

“The ACL helps provide stability to the knee especially with lateral movements, pivoting or moving side to side,” explained Dr. Wendell Heard, Associate Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at Tulane.

Dr. Heard is not Jameis' doctor. We asked him to explain reports that the Saints starter had torn his ACL and a damaged his MCL.
“In general, an ACL will not heal on its own, so it does need surgery to provide stability back to the knee,” Heard said.

The ACL is a ligament deep inside the knee. The MCL is a ligament on the inner outside of the knee joint. They are two of four ligaments that hold the joint together.

“Fixing it with stitches does not work in an ACL, and so what happens is the entire ligament is reconstructed. And so usually we take a part of another part of the knee to use to make a new ACL,” Heard said.

Sometimes doctors have to wait a couple of weeks before surgery so the inflammation can go down. And then there is also news the 27-year-old, former Heisman Trophy winner probably does not want to hear.

“The recovery typically is about nine months, sometimes up to 12 months before full return to sport and activity. So it's a long recovery. It's a tough recovery.” Dr. Heard noted.

The good news is that pro athletes are already strong and conditioned and heal faster, but the flip side is they're trying to get back to an ultra-high level of performance and demand on the body.

When asked if the knee is ever as good and stable and solid as it was before, he replied, “So the return to sport and activity rates are good especially for the quarterback position, and so the expectation is that he will be happy with his knee.”

And Dr. Heard says Jameis' priorities post-op will be getting range of motion and strength back and keeping the swelling down.

Rehab will be a lot of strengthening and endurance work.

Athletes recover well too because they are very motivated, according to Dr. Heard.