The Miami Dolphins cut quarterback Daunte Culpepper last year because knee injuries kept him sidelined for most of the season. On Sunday, the QB led his new team, the Oakland Raiders, to a 35-17 victory over the Dolphins in Miami by rushing for three touchdowns and passing for two more.
Local trainer Brian Siddall called Culpepper's recovery "significant." Sidall, the supervisor of athletic training at Fisher-Titus Medical Center, said most QBs can "come back to 90 to 95 percent of what they were" and that's the best they can hope for.
Culpepper scored one of the TDs by rolling left and diving head-first into the end zone. He then got up, looked up at the Dolphins' fans and touched his knee three times.
After the game, the back-up QB told the USA Today that many people have asked him about his knee.
"I wanted to say, 'I'm OK and I'm getting better every day,'" Culpepper said. "The only thing I really felt bad about is that I didn't have a chance to show the fans here me healthy as a Dolphin."
Siddall said the most devastating injury he has seen in his 30 years of athletic training is a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The ACL is an internal ligament in the knee.
The recovery time after surgery is usually nine to 12 months. Siddall explained that doctors let about four weeks pass after the initial injury because there is two weeks of rehabilitation to reduce swelling before they can operate.
Fisher-Titus has provided athletic training services for six years for the following school systems: Norwalk, St. Paul, Berlin-Milan, Monroeville, New London, Plymouth, South Central and Western Reserve.
The four trainers are at the high schools twice a week on a rotating basis to cover practices. They are at all home games and select away contests based on staff schedules, the traveling distance, where the school is and if it has medical services available.
Siddall believes having a consulting doctor on the sidelines during a game situation can be an asset.
"Most of them (the schools) have the services of a physician on the sidelines," he said. "But most (injuries) happen in practice situations."
When a player is injured in a game, trainers first get a medical history, attempting to ascertain if the athlete has had a similar injury beforehand. Doctors and trainers check for range of motion and the person's strength. They compare the injured body part to "an uninjured site," Siddall said.
Next, the athlete is asked to do some physical activity such as jumping or running to see if they could return to practice or the game.
"It's progressive," Siddall said. "If you see something bad in the physical (test), you move on from there. From there, it's just damage control."
He added it's best to be conservative with head injuries, saying concussions should go in their own category. When an athlete is begging to return to action, Siddall believes the most important things is being objective.
"You can't make an emotional decision," he said. "You have to look at them as a person first and an athlete second."
After getting an accurate diagnosis, doctors establish a realistic guideline for the athlete to recover.
"They're very goal-oriented. We'll try to look at a calendar and pick a date for them to return to competition. That gives them a goal," Siddall said.
Athletes who expect to be out of commission for a while are given sport-specific exercises drills simulating what would happen in a game situation. Siddall said those activities could be no-contact or running drills.
Student-athletes, because of their age, tend to be more concerned with the short-term consequences of their injury instead of the long-term ramifications. "(It's) what's immediate and what's in front of them," Siddall added.
Injuries obviously can be psychologically damaging to the athlete and the team.
Siddall covers many small school systems, so he's seen how devastating it can be to a team that loses three or four football players who are on both offense and defense. Teams with a "lack of depth," he explained, are affected the most.
It's fairly well proven, the veteran trainer said, that less injuries equals more success.