Rodgers' calf unlikely to be full strength in playoffs
Two-thousand miles away, Dr. Ken Jung was listening to the radio broadcast when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was carted to the locker room Sunday.
Jung, a foot and ankle surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopedic in Los Angeles, would later see the replay. He watched the Packers quarterback scramble right, throw a touchdown pass to receiver Randall Cobb, then collapse untouched to the field.
When Rodgers was carted away, Jung had the same thought as anyone else.
"I didn't expect him to get back in there," he told Press-Gazette Media on Monday.
Not only did Rodgers return. The MVP quarterback helped lead Green Bay to a 30-20 win against Detroit that sealed a fourth straight NFC North title and first-round bye in the playoffs.
Now, Rodgers has two weeks to rest and heal before Green Bay hosts an NFC divisional round game Jan. 11.
But Jung said it's unlikely Rodgers' calf will be full strength in two weeks.
With the severity of Rodgers' pain — highlighted by the need to cart him off the field — Jung said the quarterback likely has a "moderate to severe" calf strain. A moderate strain is a partial tear of the muscle, while severe is a complete tear, he said.
The calf injury's grade is low enough to play, Jung said, but a lesser, mild calf strain likely wouldn't be listed on the injury report.
Moderate to severe calf strains typically take six to eight weeks to heal, Jung said. With the Super Bowl less than five weeks away, it's unlikely Rodgers' calf will heal before season's end — even if there is no re-injury.
Rodgers may have to play through pain again this postseason, as he did Sunday. Even if his calf isn't fully healed in two weeks, Rodgers still could be effective.
"There's some amount of tearing, anywhere from low grade or high grade," Jung said. "Obviously, it's probably at least a pretty low grade if he's able to keep playing on it, versus if it's a really high grade he probably wouldn't be able to play on it. So there are basically small tears, like micro tears. Those areas can definitely get re-aggravated if you're trying to stress a muscle that already has a previous injury."
Rodgers initially strained his calf early in the Packers' win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Dec. 21. Against the Lions, Rodgers injured a separate area in his calf, rather than re-injuring the original strain.
The calf is formed from two separate muscles — the gastrocnemius and soleus. The gastrocnemius is divided into a lateral and medial portion in the upper calf, while the soleus is in the lower calf. It's possible, Jung said, for two of the three "muscle bellies" in Rodgers' calf to be torn.
"If it's in a totally different spot, I would start a (recovery timetable) clock differently on that (newest strain)," Jung said. "If it's in the same muscle belly, then you could say it may be a re-injury. If it's a totally different muscle belly, then I would say that it would be something new.
"I think the key thing would be when you get back playing on it, whether you re-injure it playing. That basically restarts the clock again, by re-injuring it."
The Packers will be off for three days before returning to practice Friday and Saturday. It's a later schedule than Green Bay used with its first-round bye in 2011. That year, the Packers practiced Wednesday and Thursday of the bye week and took the weekend off.
McCarthy wouldn't say the adjustment was made specifically to accommodate Rodgers — "scheduling's done for the best interests of our team," he said — but the change will be beneficial. So will an extra week to prepare for the next game.
Rest, Jung said, is the most important piece to the recovery process.
Rodgers referenced the chance to secure a first-round bye as one motivator for his return Sunday. The extra week could be vital. Jung said the first two days following a soft-tissue tear in the calf are about pain management, limiting muscle swelling.
"Basically, you don't want to be trying to push through any pain at this point," Jung said. "You've got to really listen to your body."
As game day approaches, activity increases. Jung said the Packers' medical staff will put Rodgers in game-type situations, simulating the stress on his calf.
Rodgers' injury limits his ability to extend plays, a staple of what makes him difficult to defend. For a quarterback, Jung said, the injury affects more than mobility. Throwing a football exercises the entire body, from feet to shoulders. When he throws, Rodgers shifts all of his weight from his right to left leg.
"You kind of give them a little test as part of his rehab," Jung said. "In the beginning, they're just trying to get the pain down, but typically with the trainers and stuff like that — as they work him back to try to simulate game-type situations — they'll do activities to kind of replicate what he would do in a game and see how he'd respond, and try to get a sense of where it's at and how things are healing. If all that stuff doesn't cause pain, then you know he's coming along pretty well."
For his toughness and grit, Rodgers' performance against the Lions may have sealed his second MVP award. But the quarterback flashed more than intangibles. A wide, stable foundation is important for any passer, but Rodgers proved Sunday he has the upper-body strength to compensate. It's a skill he might have to rely on again.
"Obviously, to have to get carted off, you know there's quite a bit of pain," Jung said. "Then to get out there and be able to scramble around, or even just be able to throw, because you need to have that stable foundation and legs that can push off to throw. So the fact that he was able to work around it is a testament to what he's able to do with arm strength, as well just being down one leg.
"To even be able to modify his game, to be able to work around activities that would flare up the calf, he was able to work around it. So that's a testament to him."
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