Michael Crabtree injury: The real Achilles is the mental injury

Ronald Martinez

Michael Crabtree ruptured his Achilles tendon in OTAs and reportedly underwent surgery. We examine the nature and extent of Crabtree's injury and recovery, including what the young wide receiver will go through from a mental standpoint.

By now, you've probably heard the jolting news. Michael Crabtree ruptured his Achilles tendon during organized team activities. Before you let loose with every known expletive, let's examine the nature of Crabtree's injury.

The Achilles tendon is the thickest and strongest tendon in the body. It connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. When a person flexes the calf muscles, the Achilles tendon pulls on the heel. This is what allows us to stand, walk, run or jump on our toes. The tear grades can range from a microscopic tear to the entire Achilles being pulled off the heel bone.

As of yet, we do not have the details of the nature and extent of Crabtree's injury. However, it has been reported that Crabtree has already undergone surgery and is expected to miss up to six months.

I have seen the comparison made with Terrell Suggs, linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens. I generally hate to compare these types of injuries, because every injury is unique and subjective in nature. Suggs's recovery was extraordinary. He completely shattered the medical recovery baseline (8-12 months) for an Achilles tear. Suggs's recovery shouldn't be considered typical by any means. This example is anecdotal. At the same time, Suggs does inspire confidence. He has shown that athletes are able to recover from what used to be career-ending injuries.

It is possible Crabtree can beat the odds like Suggs. I do not want to be pessimistic, but these surgeries are anything but straightforward. For Achilles injuries, surgery is almost always required for an active person. Still, surgery can create its own complications.

Surgery for a rupture usually indicates that some part of the tendon is torn in two. Surgeons use incredibly strong sutures and tie (or meticulously sew) the tendon ends back together. The Achilles tendon also runs along the calf muscle. If it is torn away from the muscle, the surgery is more invasive (it has to be reattached). And, if it is torn away from the heel, the surgeon is required to bolt the tendon back on the heel.

When I first heard about the injury, I wasn't optimistic. The media tends to trivialize these injuries as straightforward surgeries. But, it can be pretty complex. Yet, when it was reported Crabtree already underwent surgery, I was very encouraged. Why? Generally, a surgeon won't operate until the swelling subsides. If Crabtree has already had the surgery, it could indicate there was little to no swelling. A lack of swelling shows the repair was related to micro tears that need to be sutured back together; but, it would not appear to be separated from the other anatomy (calf or heel). To me, that is wonderful news. It is very encouraging from a medical standpoint and gives Crabtree a better shot at full recovery.

I do not want to sugarcoat this in any way. The fact is I am only able to read so much into what is released by the 49ers. And, even if my intuition is correct, this will still be a very difficult road for Crabtree. Immediately following the surgery, his foot will be cast in a pointed position to allow the Achilles to repair itself. He will not be able to move or walk on it for months. Then, he will get a boot to restrict and immobilize his foot. If studies (x-rays, MRI or CT) show improvement, he will begin the rehabilitation and physical therapy to strengthen his muscles. He may deal with severe atrophy and experience weakness for months (even after he returns).

This is where we will see how strong Crabtree really is. Can he cope mentally? I know injuries are incredibly tough for professional athletes. They are not used to sedentary life. Hopefully, his strength coaches and trainers will find a way to keep Crabtree active with core and upper body exercises. They will have to be creative, because of his immobility.

Mentally, these injuries can debilitate an athlete. When referencing the injury, Suggs himself said, "It's definitely one of the hardest things I've had to endure in my life. But if you've got drive, you're not accepting what the world's telling you, you can do it. But it's definitely the hardest thing I've ever done."

So often, the media compartmentalizes these injuries as no big deal. Even with the advancement of medical technology and better prognosis, the mental aspect remains the same. And, even by Suggs own admission, he has never been the same. This is the reality.

Crabtree has the ability to recover. But, he may not. A large part is going to depend on his ability to tune out the mental demons these next few months. This is where Crabtree's over-the-top arrogance (witnessed in the past) will benefit him.

What does Crabtree have to say? He tweeted:

It is interesting he stated he let everyone down. Already, Crabtree is feeling the adverse affects of injury. But, his next sentence says it all. His attitude gives me a lot of confidence in his recovery.

Niners Nation, send him your support. He is going to need it.

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