Ben Roethlisberger to have meniscus surgery today. Dont’a Hightower playing through meniscus tear.

la-sp-sn-steelers-ben-roethlisberger-20151201(Image credit to LA Times)

Ben Roethlisberger went down in the second quarter of his team’s loss to Miami yesterday.  (I’m sorry I don’t have video…I was at the Pats game) He was able to return to the game for the second half, but after the game told reporters that he would be getting an MRI on his left knee.

Late last night, Pittsburgh radio host and columnist Ron Cook reported that Roethlisberger has a meniscus tear and would be having surgery this morning.

There are two menisci (not meniscuses) in the knee, the medial meniscus and the lateral meniscus. They are cartilaginous discs which provide shock absorption and stability to the knee. The menisci in the  diagram below are shown in blue.

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A tear in a meniscus can result in pain, swelling, and instability of the knee. Since the meniscus is inside the knee joint, it is surrounded by joint fluid. This fluid prevents the tissue from healing if it is injured. Therefore, a meniscus tear, like an ACL tear, does not heal by itself.

If a tear of the meniscus is symptomatic, it can only truly be repaired surgically. The surgeon has two options when operating on a meniscus tear – he or she can repair the tear OR trim the portion of the meniscus that is torn. In Roethlisberger’s case all reports suggest that his surgeon is planning to trim the torn piece of cartilage. This is important to know because, if they were planning to repair a large tear, the quarterback’s season would likely be over. Under the best of circumstances, if the surgery is just a meniscus trim procedure, recovery is usually a minimum of 3 weeks. With that optimistic recovery time, it is possible that Roethlisberger could miss just 1 or 2 games (they have a bye in week 8) and return to play either the Ravens in week 9 or the Cowboys in week 10.

So, with this news, is anyone feeling the urge to call Ben Roethlisberger, one of the toughest players in football, soft? I mean, Dont’a Hightower has the same injury and is playing through it. Additionally, does anyone think that the Steelers are pressuring Big Ben to get back onto the field?

The answer is no. This is a perfect example of why we should not be questioning the toughness of professional athletes returning from injury. Every injury is different for every player. Martellus Bennett had a high ankle sprain one year and was out for a few weeks, he had another a couple of years later and missed no time at all. One Grade II AC joint injury can keep a player out for 3 weeks while another leads to surgery. This is not a commentary on players’ toughness. Yes, I know, it makes for great entertainment. Yes, I know that timetables for an athlete’s return are important in the world of fantasy sports. However, predicting how a specific athlete will respond to a specific injury is not a science. While doctors can report on expectations, these are just averages that we create from our clinical experience. Please do not use our predictions as ammunition in the toughness debate.

Follow me on Twitter @jessdeede

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