As New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham prepares for Sunday’s 2015 NFL Pro Bowl, he’s still dealing with an injured right shoulder. As with many players suiting up for the annual event, most of them have injuries, aches and pains from the long NFL season which started playing games 25 weeks ago. Pain and professional football are common bedfellows.
Graham nor the Saints have not completely divulged the exact details of his season-long shoulder injury. He wore a shoulder harness, which stabilizes his shoulder joint by limiting his range of motion, the entire season. He did not miss a game all season for the second year in a row.
I like Jimmy Graham’s plan for his shoulder by using the Pro Bowl as a test to determine if he needs surgery. “Damn, isn’t a 16 game season a long enough test?” you might ask.
No and let me explain why.
A Look Behind the NFL Medical Curtain
During a long NFL season, a tight end with an injured shoulder has no time to truly rest his shoulder. Meanwhile he never has ample time to regain the strength in his rotator cuff. Both reducing the swelling in the injured shoulder AND increasing the muscular stability of that shoulder are clearly the two most important rehab needs for Jimmy Graham’s shoulder.
During the season, I’m sure the Saints’ athletic training staff were busy just maintaining Jimmy’s range of motion and controlling his pain. But now that Graham has had a solid four weeks to both reducing his shoulder swelling and increasing the shoulder muscle strength, he’s ready to realistically test his shoulder.
Surgery or No Surgery?
Based on his position, the shoulder harness, the manner in which he used his right arm during the season and his comments, it’s very likely Graham has some type of shoulder labral injury. It’s been my experience during my 26 years in the NFL that most teams have multiple labral injuries every year. Most of these labral tears do not need surgery unless joint instability or joint “catching” directly limits the player’s ability to do his job. If the instability or the “catching” are significant, the player’s surgery is scheduled in days not months.
When a player ends his season with an injured shoulder and stops banging on it, his shoulder quickly feels better. The difficult decision for the player/team is: Even though a rested shoulder with a labral tear will certainly feel better, will the limitations and symptoms return in Mini Camp when he starts hitting again?
I’ve had 30+ discussions exactly like this with players in the last 20 years. I can tell you that it’s rarely a crystal-clear decision. The player wants to be healthy and he trusts his ability to heal. Meanwhile, he obviously wants to avoid shoulder surgery with 3-6 months of rehab if possible.
What Jimmy Graham is doing by rehabbing for a month and then taking advantage of a rare opportunity to truly test his injured shoulder 4-5 month before his spring Mini Camp is brilliant!
The question for Graham’s injured right shoulder: Is rehab enough or does he need surgery to truly correct the problem(s)?
After Sunday’s Rehab Bowl, Jimmy and the Saints’ medical staff will have their answer.