Washington State University quarterback Jeff Tuel is believed to have suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) on his right knee during the game against Eastern Washington two weeks ago. How do we know that? Connor Halliday accidently mentioned some specifics regarding Tuel's injury during an interview (the audio of which you can listen to at the end of the post).
Here's both some background information on this type of injury and its potential effect on Tuel's ability to play the quarterback position.
Ligaments connect bone to bone and exist to provide stability. There are four ligaments that hold the knee together: the anterior cruciate (ACL), posterior cruciate (PCL), lateral collateral (LCL) and what is of interest for Cougar fans today, the medial collateral ligament (MCL).
A sprain indicates damage to the fibers that make up the ligament. Ligament damage can occur from over-compression, over-extension or blunt force trauma. Specifically with the MCL, the most common football related mechanism of injury occurs when a force hits the outside of the knee, causing a strain as the MCL tries to hold the knee in place. Excessive twisting can also cause significant damage. These sprains are graded based on the severity of fiber tearing.
- Grade 1 - minimal tearing of fibers. Swelling, stiffness and minor pain are expected, but should decrease in the short term. Approximate 1-3 weeks recovery.
- Grade 2 - moderate tearing of fibers. Symptoms of the grade 1 are escalated. Limited weight bearing for approximately 1 week and recovery time is extended to approximately 4-5 weeks.
- Grade 3 - severe or total tearing of fibers. Will usually require limited weight bearing for 4 weeks, and a brace for 4-6 weeks, with a possibly surgery. Recovery time is a matter of months.
For those of you playing intramurals or beer league softball, remember this acronym if you think you suffered or witnessed a knee sprain: Rest Ice Compression Elevation. This is the typical home treatment and most ligament sprains will be able to heal themselves in time. (The more you know!)
How does this type of injury impact Tuel quarterbacking the Cougs? Gauging by his return to practice, we can assume he did not sustain a grade 3 sprain, but any further inference would be speculation. With a minor (grade 1 or 2) MCL sprain, the stiffness and pain should decrease over the span of a couple weeks, as should the feeling of instability (which is typically minimal for a MCL injury).
As a former quarterback, I can tell you that the the right leg is of specific concern for a right handed quarterback because of the function of the back leg when he throws.
In the process of throwing, the quarterback plants the back leg (which initiates the hitch forward if required), squares his shoulders to the target, steps, and drives off the back leg. You want to be able to explode forward off the plant leg, transferring the energy of the momentum shift into the ball as it's released -- essentially, the back leg is a significant source of a quarterback's velocity. While a right knee MCL sprain can affect this ability, a brace should alleviate much of the strain generated by the throwing motion and allow Tuel to throw without a considerable loss of zip on the ball.
Any significant twisting (common while throwing on the run or off the back foot) could cause pain depending on the degree of the injury, but that discomfort should also be mitigated by the brace. A brace is, most simply, an exoskeleton that takes over the function of a damaged tissue. After suffering a minor MCL sprain 13 days ago, Tuel should be well on his way to recovery and the brace will become increasingly more preventative and less assistive.