For athletes, injuries are a given. For athletes who reach elite status and play at the highest levels of their sports, injuries are even more likely. Training demands to maintain the heightened ability or to take the next step are often times a factor in injuries. Nobody needs to be asked that any more today than Logan Watkins, who last week tore his Achilles tendon, and former Cubs outfielder Tony Campana, who the White Sox reported tore his ACL today.
Both of these players have spent some time as Major Leaguers, but Watkins was out-righted to Iowa last fall and Campana had signed with the White Sox on a minor league contract. Likewise, both were working out in preparation for Spring Training so that they could make their push back on to their parent club’s roster. Neither the Achilles tendon tear nor ACL tear are necessarily contact injuries, and because both were training, it is safe to assume that they were both non-contact injuries.
Logan Watkins had the more devastating injury of the two. The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the body. When the tendon is ruptured, it is extremely difficult to walk and impossible to point the toes downward. In a training setting, one of the common ways to rupture the Achilles tendon is by over-extending it with major force. Over-training or excessive activity can also lead to the rupture. It’s a difficult injury and is said to be very painful. For players who are trying to make the next step in their careers, sometimes the balance between improving and devastating injury cannot be avoided.
Devastated to say that I tore my Achilles today working out in Arizona. Hard to put into words how sad I am that I won’t be apart of the
— Logan Watkins (@WatkinsLogan) February 4, 2015
Great season the Cubs are prepared to have. — Logan Watkins (@WatkinsLogan) February 4, 2015
Sadly, for Watkins, the season is over. While news outlets and other blogs have speculated at a possibility that Watkins makes a return this season, there is simply no good reason for him to rush back for 2015, even if he is motivated and blows through his rehab at record speed. The typical return to routine activity is between four and six months. Playing professional sports is not routine activity. To regain the required strength and function to play baseball at even the minor league level will likely require significantly more time than is available between now and the end of this baseball season. The recovery is necessarily slower because the patient, in this case Watkins, will need to avoid stretching the repaired tendon too quickly to avoid reinjury or having an Achilles tendon that is permanently stretched. It is a much slower recovery out of necessity and caution. Setbacks are more likely if the rehabilitation plan is not adhered to pretty tightly. In spite of all of those factors, the once career ending injury now has a low (1-2%) recurrence rate. Logan Watkins should return to the baseball field in time for next spring training, ready to go.
Thanks for all the positivity.. First time anything like this has ever happened to me so still kinda shocked. But the support helps a lot
— Logan Watkins (@WatkinsLogan) February 5, 2015
Surgery went really well this morning. Again thank you for all the kind words. It helped a lot. — Logan Watkins (@WatkinsLogan) February 6, 2015
Tony Campana’s injury is an injury that is much more commonly seen among sports fans.
Tony Campana suffered a torn ACL during a recent training session and most likely will miss the 2015 season.
— Chicago White Sox (@whitesox) February 10, 2015
ACL injuries can be caused by a number of different factors. Biomechanics, muscular imbalance, fatigue are chief among those factors. In baseball players, biomechanics and imbalance are not uncommon mechanisms. Campana, being a person who relies on his ability to run, very well could have had a muscular imbalance that caused him to tear his ACL, although that is nothing more than speculation. He could have also had a valgus force on his knee or made a sudden stop to cause the injury.
For Campana, assuming any other damage to his knee is minimal, the timeline to recovery is much more smooth sailing. Campana could possibly make a return to the baseball field this season, depending on other injury to the knee and how quickly he has surgery to repair his knee. There are a number of individual factors to be considered, including strength and comfort in surrounding muscles, range of motion of the knee itself, and function during normal activity.
The idea of muscle imbalance and biomechanics brings about an interesting discussion point for a current Cubs outfielder. Last season, Jorge Soler had problems with his hamstrings that the team later attributed to muscle imbalance. Soler worked in Arizona and was given ample time off during the season to reduce the stress on his legs and correct the imbalance. While it would be irresponsible to say that the Cubs dodged a bullet with Soler, it does highlight the importance of the balance and biomechanics of the body. It is impossible to say what will happen to Jorge Soler going forward, or what could have happened if the Cubs had not discovered that he had a muscle imbalance. But as we all lament the missed time with the hamstring strains, it may be a time to be thankful that missing portions of a season with those strains did not evolve into a missed season because he needed a knee reconstruction.
As the Cubs place their eggs in the baskets of young players who are doing everything they can to break into the major leagues, it is important to keep the possibility of injury in the periphery of the big picture. While even devastating injuries like Logan Watkins’ Achilles tear are able to be overcome by the massive advances of modern sports medicine, they can be the causes of setbacks, both personally for the player and organizationally. From that stand point, it was a prudent move for Theo Epstein to tell Kris Bryant to go home and relax after his first full professional season. Bryant was a player who had not had much down time since being drafted. Forcing time off is a good thing, especially for young players eager to make the next step. Logan Watkins and Tony Campana, if nothing else, serve as reminders that professional athletes put themselves through an enormous amount of rigorous activity. Often times, what happened to these two players cannot be avoided.
Let’s just hope that their rehab goes well and both are back on the field at full strength in 2016.