Aaron Rodger's Injury Risk Profile and Tendon Tears
By Tyler Nord, SPT
On September 11, 2023, Aaron Rodgers was set to make his much-anticipated debut with the New York Jets. Four plays into the game, the buzz surrounding Rodgers shifted into hushed anguish for the Jets and NFL fans. Rodgers exited the field and headed back to the locker room with an apparent left leg injury. Shortly after, news circulated that Rodgers had ruptured his Achilles tendon, typically a season ending injury. This news left many people asking: What lies ahead for the aging NFL star? This blog series will explore risk factors for Achilles tendon tears and factors influencing his road to recovery, including his anticipated rehabilitation.
First, it is important to understand how Rodgers’ Achilles injury occurred. The Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in the human body; however, it can rupture when placed under extreme tensile loads. In part, this is due to the collagen composition of the Achilles tendon. As a person ages, the type 1 collagen in the tendon becomes disorganized and is susceptible to degeneration1. The increased risk of Achilles degeneration can be attributed to compromised blood supply to the tendon combined with chronic tensile stress(1). These risk factors can compound and play a significant role in how an Achilles ruptures.
When Rodgers was traded to the Jets, fans may have overlooked the risk that Rodgers possessed entering this season. After all, he is 39, turning 40, this December; an age that many NFL players are not able to play beyond. This combined with the intense physicality and force demands that are required in NFL games subjected Rodgers to an increased risk of tissue injury. Rodgers, during his NFL career, has accumulated his fair share of injuries, including six left lower leg injuries prior to his Achilles rupture. The notable injuries include multiple calf strains, three fractures, and an MCL sprain. Most recently, Rodgers strained his left calf during training camp this season. Prior injuries result in an increased risk of reinjury, which is one of the factors which may have influenced Rodgers’ Achilles rupture. When muscular injury occurs, a scar forms within the muscle during the healing process. The presence of scar tissue alters normal muscle contraction, in turn decreasing strength while increasing metabolic fatigue(2).
Aaron Rodgers’ injury was the most recent spark in what has become a hot debate in the NFL: Does playing on turf fields correlate with a higher risk of injury? It can be difficult to discern which factors are directly responsible or associated with many injuries. However, recent literature suggests that there is a correlation between turf fields and higher rate of foot and ankle injuries in football athletes in contrast with natural grass fields(3,4). MetLife Stadium, where Rodgers suffered the injury, is a turf field and has seen plenty of leg injuries in recent years. Since 2021, there have been three players that have injured their Achilles at MetLife Stadium: Jonotthan Harrison, Levine Toilolo, and now Aaron Rodgers. Many more players have experienced ACL tears at MetLife in that same timespan. The significance of these injuries has to make fans consider why the NFL continues to utilize turf fields with their increased risk of injury.
Ultimately, there are many factors which may have led to Rodgers’ ankle injury. It is next to impossible to identify the most prominent risk factor. Most likely, each of the discussed components had an influence in Rodgers’ injury.
Stay tuned for our next post on where Aaron Rodgers goes from here!
Tyler Nord, SPT, is a physical therapist intern with PhysioPartners from Northwestern University's Physical Therapy program.
- Shamrock AG, Dreyer MA, Varacallo M. Achilles Tendon Rupture. National Library of Medicine. August 17, 2023. Accessed September 30, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430844/.
- Alessandrino F, Balconi G. Complications of muscle injuries. J Ultrasound. 2013;16(4):215-222. Published 2013 Mar 2. doi:10.1007/s40477-013-0010-4
- Gould HP, Lostetter SJ, Samuelson ER, Guyton GP. Lower Extremity Injury Rates on Artificial Turf Versus Natural Grass Playing Surfaces: A Systematic Review. Am J Sports Med. 2023;51(6):1615-1621. doi:10.1177/03635465211069562
- Mack CD, Hershman EB, Anderson RB, et al. Higher rates of lower extremity injury on synthetic turf compared with natural turf among National Football League athletes: Epidemiologic confirmation of a biomechanical hypothesis. The American Journal of Sports Medicine. 2018;47(1):189-196. doi:10.1177/0363546518808499