In the week 7 match up against the Raiders, Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered an injury to his left (non-throwing) hand that turned out to be a torn UCL (ulnar collateral ligament). After a brutal loss last night to the Bills, the Jets revealed the Fitzpatrick was to have surgery to repair that torn UCL and is not expected to miss time. This is because he will have 10 days to recover before playing again (week 10 match up at Houston) which serves enough time for the hand to heal enough that he can play with a splint on. That being said, the rest of this article will focus more on the injury and it's recovery process.
What is the UCL?
A ligament is connective tissue that connects two bones together; in this case the UCL is on the inner side of the thumb and connects the metacarpal (bone in the palm) to the phalanx (bone above the knuckle) . There are several UCLs in the body, most notably in the elbow joint which is the cause of Tommy John Surgery if torn.
The UCL acts as the main stabilizer during gripping and ligaments in general contribute to stability of the joint; thus, a torn UCL impairs the QB's ability to grip the ball (for handoffs, pitches, and tucking while scrambling) and increases the chances of a dislocated thumb. We are very fortunate that this injury happened to Fitz's non-throwing hand as his season would be likely over if this happened to the right hand. This injury is commonly known as "Skier's thumb" or "Gamekeeper's thumb".
How significant is this injury?
As I said above, this season would have taken a turn for the worse if Fitz hurt his throwing hand. As we saw last game, he wore a custom splint that provided enough support for protection and gripping the ball well enough to receive a snap, hand off, pitch it, and tuck it in the event of a scramble. CBS had this great graphic during last week's game that indicated 52% of Fitz's snaps resulted in a left-handed handoff and 9% resulted in a pitch. Clearly, he uses his left hand a lot when he is not throwing the ball; as a result, he needs to quickly get acclimated to the splint so his game is unaffected.
Carson Palmer suffered a similar injury in the 2009 season and continued to play through the injury (he elected for surgery in the offseason). He went to the Pro Bowl and playoffs that year so it clearly is one of those injuries that can be manageable without sidelining a player until he is 100% healed.
What is the recovery process like?
Because the UCL is complete torn, surgery is required. Typically, surgical repair of the UCL requires the person to be casted for 6 weeks with splints worn for about 4-6 weeks once removed from the cast. Once out of the cast, he will work on reducing the swelling and breaking up any scar tissue. As soon as the splint is removed, the medical staff will work towards regaining full range of motion and grip strength before starting any sport-specific activity. Full recovery can be expected about 3 months after the cast is removed. Given that Fitzpatrick will continue to play, these timelines are sensitive assuming there is no additional damage from a sack or slide in future games. It is fair to say that Fitz will not be 100% for the rest of the season however we are lucky that he can still be QB1 since the injury happened on his non-throwing hand.