Aaron Rodgers’ Injury: The Path Back to the Field
By Tyler Nord, SPT
When Rodgers ruptured his Achilles tendon, many fans were left wondering what the next steps would be for the 39-year-old quarterback. It was reported that he would have surgery in the days following his injury, determined to return to the football field. Typical surgical interventions for Achilles rupture consist of percutaneous and open repairs. Rodgers opted to undergo a new style of open repair, described as the SpeedBridge Achilles Tendon Repair. The SpeedBridge repair is a modified rip-stop technique with the intention of increasing mechanical load to failure and optimizing the load sharing capacity when compared to traditional repairs (1). This, in theory, should provide improved stability at the repair site and reduce the return to sport timetable for Rodgers.
Rodgers had his Achilles tendon repair operation performed on September 13, 2023, by Dr. Neal ElAttrache. Dr. ElAttrache is a notable surgeon who has performed surgeries on numerous NFL athletes, including Cam Akers’ SpeedBridge Achilles Repair in 2021. Akers returned to play in record time, reappearing on the football field 5.5 months after suffering the injury. Akers’ timespan to return to sport was eye opening for fans and players alike. As we shift our focus to Rodgers’ injury, questions must be raised if he will try to return in a similar timeframe. NBC reporter Melissa Stark reported that after speaking with Rodgers, he is planning to permanently rejoin the team in week 7 and play again this season. She also reported that he is completing over five hours of rehabilitation each day. It will be interesting to monitor Rodgers’ situation as he continues to progress with this injury; it certainly is possible that we see him back in action sooner rather than later.
Rodgers’ rehabilitation timeline certainly is deviating from the typical timeline for an Achilles tendon repair. Many surgeons choose to have their patients follow a protocol with their physical therapist. For example, a protocol will have interventions, precautions or contraindications, goals, and progression criteria to advance to the next stage of recovery. A sample protocol from Mass General indicates that restricted return to sport usually occurs at least six months after surgery(2). The athlete is then eased back into the physical demands of the sport as appropriate. Of course, most of our patients do not spend 5 hours a day in our office!
Early rehabilitation treatment will consist of wearing a post-surgical boot and performing range of motion and strength exercises6. As pain improves, he will progress his ability to bear weight through his surgical leg while incorporating more advanced exercises targeting strength, endurance, proprioception, and gait6. From here, Rodgers will progress into a transitional stage in his recovery which will be primarily focused on progression into higher level activities with good tolerance regarding the surgical repair. Recovery and return to sport timelines can vary depending on many factors and are not the same for every athlete. As Rodgers continues his journey, it will be intriguing to watch how he progresses and if he shares more information about his treatments.
Rodgers has mentioned that he is planning to return to play football later this season. At first, many people close to the NFL did not believe that it would be possible. However, Rodgers has doubled down on his claim by saying that he plans to return to the team in week 7. Upon returning, it will be interesting to observe how his playing time is impacted. Previous research indicates that quarterbacks who experienced Achilles rupture had a similar number of regular games played per season and career lengths when compared to their healthy counterpart(3). Regarding level of play, Rodgers will probably require time and practice to fully hone his skills again.
Rodgers’ return would most likely not include game action for some time after rejoining team activities. Even so, it is bewildering to consider that Rodgers may return in some capacity to football less than two months after sustaining his Achilles injury. Rodgers had plenty of doubters that he would even return to football at any point.
Rodgers has proved his skeptics wrong before on the football field. The opportunity is at Rodgers’ fingertips to prove his critics wrong again, possibly in record for his rehabilitation. Rodgers has shown throughout his playing career that if opportunity is there, he will capitalize on it. Can Aaron Rodgers triumph on his road to recovery and return to the NFL? All signs point to yes, the only question being when.
Tyler Nord, SPT, is a physical therapist intern with PhysioPartners from Northwestern University's Physical Therapy program.
- Hoffman J, Gupta S, Amesur A, et al. Achilles Tendon Rip-Stop SpeedBridge Repair. Arthrosc Tech. 2021;10(9):e2113-e2120. Published 2021 Aug 17. doi:10.1016/j.eats.2021.05.011
- Rehabilitation protocol for achilles tendon repair. Mass General. Accessed October 2, 2023. https://www.massgeneral.org/assets/mgh/pdf/orthopaedics/sports-medicine/physical-therapy/rehabilitation-protocol-for-achilles-tendon-repair.pdf.
- Jack RA, Sochacki KR, Gardner SS, et al. Performance and return to sport after achilles tendon repair in National Football League players. Foot & Ankle International. 2017;38(10):1092-1099. doi:10.1177/1071100717718131