Even if you haven’t seen the clip, just hearing about Zach Miller’s recent knee injury during the Chicago Bears’ 20-12 loss to the New Orleans Saints is pretty gruesome. Dislocated knee. Multiple ligament damage. Severed popliteal artery. The injury was so severe it required immediate emergency surgery to revascularize Miller’s left leg with a saphenous vein graft.
There were whispers that he might lose the leg altogether.
What’s even more stunning about this injury is how it happened: Miller dislocated his knee during a non-contact play. In fact, he was in the process of catching a touchdown (which was later overturned) and simply appeared to step wrong.
Though he is certainly not alone, Miller joins a rather exclusive group: knee dislocations (of the tibiofemoral joint) are incredibly rare and account for less than 0.02% of all orthopedic injuries.
And the repercussions of this injury are far reaching for Miller, creating a steep hill for him to climb if he wishes to fully recover.
Here’s what that recovery might look like for Miller and other athletes who’ve suffered this grievous injury.
The good news is that Miller will likely keep his leg, at least according to recent reports. The emergency surgery was a success.
Of course, once the leg has been stabilized, Miller could face a number of follow-up surgical procedures intended to help repair lingering structural damage. In cases like these, surgical management is usually the treatment of choice because of the multidirectional instability associated with the severity of this injury. Throughout it all, postoperative stiffness is also likely to remain a major concern and could contribute to a difficult post-surgical management outlook.
As Miller progresses, his postoperative care will shift toward rehabilitation and physical therapy. Here, too, the focus will be most likely be on protecting the reconstructed joint and repaired ligaments as part of a knee microfracture protocol. This could include non-weight-bearing exercise, which is often indicated for six weeks or more in cases like this, depending on the extent of the damage and follow-up surgical procedures necessary during immediate treatment. This may include early partial weight bearing/toe-touch exercises (at approximately 25% bodyweight).
Where AlterG Fits In
Once approved by the surgeon, controlled motion can be beneficial, but requires muscular control and a safe environment to prevent re-injury. One option for achieving this, the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill™, is particularly well-suited for situations like these in which controlled loading and an incremental return to full-body-weight exercise are called for. In fact, the AlterG has proven beneficial for procedures that follow similar post-op weight-bearing precautions, such as microfractures. Another NFL player, J.J. Watt, recently took his first steps on the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill after a serious injury.
Regardless of what treatment path Miller and others like him follow, the process of rehabilitation will be a long and difficult one, fraught with various risk factors for re-injury and complication. The key will be a measured and incremental approach to reintroducing body-weight exercise, something physical therapy tools like the AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill are particularly well-suited to deliver.
We wish him well!