06 January 2014

Theo ruptured his ACL—out for six months

Here is a devastating announcement posted at the team-site. In brief, Theo has ruptured his ACL, an injury that will require surgery and keep him out of action for six months. He won't be back in Arsenal red for the remainder of the 2013-14 campaign and will also miss the World Cup in Brazil.

This is the same kind of injury that derailed Abou Diaby's comeback and used to be the kind of injury that ended careers. For what it's worth, it ended mine, not that I was ever any good. I tore my ACL, MCL, and meniscus playing football back in April 2013 and may never play football again. Then again, I'm a bush-leaguer about to enter my fourth decade on this planet.

For a player like Theo, young, quite good, and making a career of the game, the generic prognosis is much better than it ever was. I remember when the American basketballer blew out his knee in 1985. He had surgery and came back for a few years of decent basketball, but it was clear that he had lost his speed and leaping abilities. He was never quite the player he was, and he retired in 1991. Fast-forward almost thirty years, and the progress made in repairing and rehabilitating such injuries has grown, if you'll pardon the pun, by leaps and bounds. Instead of a torn ACL symbolizing the impending close to a once-promising career, there are plenty of success-stories to suggest that Theo will be back, just as good as he was before the injury. In fact, some players claim, with evidence, that they are faster, stronger, better than before.

For example, American football's Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL in 2011 but came back for the 2012-13 to win the league's Most Valuable Player award. He improved his yards-per-carry average from 4.8 over the previous five seasons to 6.5 while rushing for more than 2,000 yards for the first time in his career. Other examples abound. The point is that, as devastating as this injury is for Walcott in the short term, it need not spell the end of his career.

And this is where my experience having torn my ACL comes into play, not that I'm any kind of expert. The ACL cannot heal itself and, once torn, must be replaced entirely. High-profile athletes frequently get a patellar graft, meaning that surgeons borrow a bit of the patellar tendon from the other knee. It's more-aggressive than other options but leads to greater strength and resilience in the long run. Schlubs like yours truly usually get a graft from their own hamstring ligament or—gasp—a cadaver, methods that promise a quicker recovery by somewhat diminished performance. The surgeon who worked on my knee said that, in the early 1980s, they didn't even know what the ACL was or how to detect a rupture, much less treat it. Treatment back then consisted, in his words, of a bottle of aspirin, a pair of crutches, and stern advice to rest it until the pain stopped. They've made a lot of progress since then. It's sad to see Theo go down after such a promising return from the earlier injuries, but it's likely we'll see him come back for the 2014-15 campaign fresh, vigorous, free of the various other niggling injuries that accumulate, and perhaps even a step or two quicker than he already is.

In the meantime, I now regret my tongue-in-cheek piece from yesterday in which I suggested that Theo, Giroud, and Bendtner feign injury in order to convince Arsene to bring in a new player or two. That suggestion, now shorn of its humor, takes on added significance, if not urgency. In the meantime, let's wish Theo a speedy recovery!