A lot of Cincinnati Bengals may be burrowing their heads in their pillows after hearing that the team’s star quarterback Joe Burrow will be out for the rest of this NFL season due to a torn ligament. He apparently injured his right wrist during Thursday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens. And his right wrist was the really wrong wrist to injure since it’s the side that he uses to throw the football.
You can thank your wrist ligaments for holding the various bones in your wrist together. A ligament is a fibrous band of tissue that connects one bone to another. A sprain is a medical way of saying that the ligament has been stretched or torn to some degree. Naturally, the greater the damage to the ligament the worse the injury.
Since Burrow will miss the remainder of this current 2023-2024 season and undergo surgery, you can assume that he suffered a Grade 3 or severe sprain. This is where the ligament is either completely torn through or the ligament is pulled off from one of the bones it connects. Such situations often require surgery to repair the ligament. The surgeon can either reconnect the ligament to the bone or use a tendon graft to repair the ligament. Once you undergo such surgery, it typically takes eight to 12 weeks for the ligament and the area affected by the surgery to heal. But that doesn’t mean that you should expect to jump right back to throwing touchdowns after that time period. Usually, it will take much longer—six to 12 months—to fully recover. And that’s with a good amount of physical therapy.
A severe sprain would be more severe than a moderate sprain, because that’s how words work. A moderate or Grade 2 sprain is when the ligament is only partially torn. Such a situation often doesn’t require surgery, since the ligament remains intact. Instead, you may need to keep your wrist immobilized by a splint for a week or more one week or more. Wearing a splint for that amount of time could leave your wrist rather stiff. So, you may need to do some stretching exercises to get back to full use of your wrist.
The least severe form of a wrist sprain is the Grade 1 sprain, otherwise known as a mild sprain. This is when a ligament is stretched rather than torn. In such cases, the treatment is RICE. Not rice as in the stuff that you can put eel over, but RICE as in the acronym for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. You should avoid using your wrist for the 48 hours after the injury to give it a chance to start healing. Icing the area several times a day—20 minutes at a time—can help reduce the swelling. So can wearing some type of elastic compression bandage. Elevating your wrist above your heart can help the fluid circulate away from the area as well. Not included in the RICE acronym are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen, that can help bring down pain and swelling. All in all, you pain and swelling should subside within 48 hours.
The most common way to sprain your wrist is to fall on your hand when it is outstretched. This, of course, can happen while playing different sports, trying break dance or any other activity where falling is a possibility. You should worry about a sprain if you notice a disproportionate amount of swelling, bruising, or pain, especially if you’ve felt some type of pop or tear in your wrist. Now, the symptoms don’t always match the injury. So, there is the possibility a wrist injury with little pain or swelling still could have resulted in a torn ligament.
While a torn ligament may leave Super Bowl aspirations this year seem more like wrist-ful thinking for Bengals fans, it’s unlikely to affect Burrow’s career from a longer term perspective. Chances are that he will eventually have a full recovery and be ready to throw himself back onto the field next season.