Medical Minute: On Concussions and Torn ACLs

Welcome to the newest regular segment on From the Barn written by the regular editor turned author.  My husband/primary author for this blog suggested that I write occasionally and not just correct his spelling errors.  But I can’t write a detailed analysis of each player’s skill set with comparisons to great players in history quite like he can.  So instead, I will be writing about injuries as they occur throughout the Big Ten.


I won’t lie.  I’m an oncology nurse.  I know little, if anything, about sports injuries.  I know that whenever there is some gruesome injury during a game I cringe and cover my eyes.  I know that acute health problems, blood that not in a nicely packaged bag for transfusion, and injuries are not my game.  But I do have knowledge of anatomy and physiology.  I do have all of my nursing books from college.  And I can decipher fancy journal articles that use weird statistics.  So I will be writing about sports injuries but from an oncology nurse perspective.  My sources include Medical-Surgical Nursing by Lewis, Heitkemper and Dirksen the 6th Edition, my own foggy memory of those nursing classes, and occasionally, Wikipedia.  Don’t try to treat your own injury experience with advice or information from me.  Go to a doctor first.

And now on to injuries thus far this season…

1.  Concussions

Rodney Williams didn’t play during Tubby’s Tip-Off due to a concussion that he suffered roughly 2 weeks ago.  Concussions are a mild brain injury, as opposed to a contusion, which is more severe.  Immediately after a concussion a person can experience amnesia of the event, headache, and even loss of consciousness for several minutes.

While it may seem that the injury is resolved after the immediate symptoms resolve, the brain actually has a lot of recovery left.  This post concussion recovery time can last several weeks to several months, as in the case of Twins baseball first baseman Justin Morneau.  Symptoms during this period can include headache, lethargy, memory changes and even personality changes.  The most important aspect of treatment is rest for as long as the symptoms persist.  The goal is to reduce the risk of a second-impact syndrome when there is an additional brain injury while the brain is still recovering from the first.  Even though there is some controversy about this diagnosis, Rodney’s a young kid and it makes sense to me to play it safe.

It’s unlikely that Rodney has had as many concussions as Justin, a former hockey player, so hopefully his symptoms will resolve soon.  But it is known that people who have had one concussion are more likely to suffer more concussions in the future.  Maybe Devoe just needs to wrap his elbows up in bubble wrap.

2.  Torn ACLs

If torn ACLs were infectious, I’d say that West Lafayette needs to be quarantined.  The most recent victim is Robbie Hummel who tore the repaired ACL that was torn at the Minnesota – Purdue game last winter.  He will be out for the 2010-2011 season.

Torn ACLs can happen both because of contact with another person or simply from landing or twisting hard on the knee.  Many times the person can hear a pop sound or simply feel that the knee is less stable.  This injury is typically confirmed with an MRI.

Not everyone needs surgery for a torn ACL.  If the person isn’t very active and instability isn’t a huge concern then surgery may not be the best option.  Clearly, Robbie Hummel needs surgery.  When surgery is necessary then a new ligament (ligaments connect bone to bone while tendons connect muscle to bone) is constructed using a graft either from the person’s own leg or a cadaver.  Full recovery from an ACL surgery requires lots of rehab and no sports for 6 months.  Now this person has a higher risk of more knee problems, arthritis and future pain.  Hopefully no more torn ACLs for Purdue this year.

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