In the Jets' season finale, Muhammad Wilkerson suffered a fractured fibula that will require surgery. The conventional way to fracture a fibula is through a traumatic incident (think Chase Utley's "slide" on Ruben Tejada this past MLB playoffs). In this case unfortunately, Wilkerson got injured after suffering a Grade 3 high ankle sprain that consequently resulted in the fractured fibula. Despite the extent of the injury, Mo should be back by training camp given that the Jets have the complete postseason and offseason to manage his recovery.
What is a fibula and a high ankle sprain?
The fibula is the smaller of the two shin bones (the larger bone being the tibia) and is located on the outside part of the shin. Its primary role is to provide stabilization for the ankle, as many ligaments attach to it; these ligaments prevent the ankle from rolling during walking and running.
The two bones that comprise the shin are connected through a syndesmosis, series of ligaments that joins two bones together. This injury occurs above the ankle joint thus aptly named a high ankle sprain.
What is the expected time of recovery?
Ordinarily, a fractured fibula takes about 4-6 weeks before he can begin to starting running again while a high ankle sprain takes about 6-8 weeks to fully recover from this injury but can get back onto the field as quick as 4 weeks. Typically, athletes take another 1-2 weeks to fully condition themselves back to game shape. Given that surgery is required, one can expect a longer recovery time as the tissues need extra time to heal. The surgery is more for the high ankle sprain to reattach the tibia and fibula with 1-2 screws for bony fixation. Surgery is not usually required for a fractured fibula since its a non-weightbearing bone (meaning that a person does not put a lot of his/her weight on that bone while walking and running). Placing the athlete in a boot should be satisfactory while the bone heals on its own prior to the start of physical therapy and regain the athlete's range of motion, strength, gait mechanics, etc.
Depending on the surgeon, the athlete can be on weightbearing precautions for up to 12 weeks while being placed in a cast after the surgery and then into a boot as the injured tissues continue to heal. The length of time in a boot is pivotal to his length of recovery as muscle tightness and joint stiffness increases the longer Wilkerson is in the boot. Once the ligaments have fully healed, the athlete can transition out of the boot and gradually into normal sneakers. During this transition, physical therapy will facilitate reducing the swelling and regaining full range of motion and strength to the ankle. More importantly, focus will also be on gait training to assure that the athlete can walk normally without any significant deviations. As range of motion and strength improve, balance and cardiovascular activities will begin as a precursor to sport-specific activity such as running, cutting, etc. Given the nature of his position, power training will be key so Wilkerson will be able to push off the line with enough force to maneuver around the opponent's offensive lineman and/or burst through the gap for a sack or stopping the run. Agility and sprint training can also be implemented once the athlete is ready to return to sport and get his body back into game shape.
Overall recovery should take between 5-6 months depending on the precautions placed by the surgeon and how quickly Wilkerson is able to progress through his exercises once the bones and injured ligaments have fully healed. Regardless, Muhammad Wilkerson should be ready for training camp barring any significant setback.