The Physiology of Torn ACLs (Heal Soon, Jordy Nelson)

There's more to the story regarding Jordy Nelson's ACL injury than turf. It was the result of inherent risks all athletes take when pivoting. 

On Sunday, in a meaningless preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Green Bay Packers lost superstar wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the season due to a torn right ACL.

Packers fans are currently going through the five stages of the Kubler-Ross model of death: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. 

At first, it was, "No, he's ok and nothing is torn because he walked off the field."

Then, it became, "I hate Heinz Field for causing the injury, and now I hate all of football."

That gave way to, "Maybe it's not so bad and he can come back after a few weeks."

Next, it sunk in as "Our Super Bowl hopes are over!"

Finally, some settled on, "Next man up; the Packers will be ok and will still contend for the Super Bowl."

I'm sure many of you are still at various stages in this process. No rush to move along; take your time and work through it at your own pace.

However, I want to specifically discuss the second stage of anger, particularly how many fans are blaming the turf at Heinz Field for causing Jordy's torn ACL.

I'm not a turf scientist, sports physiologist, or medical doctor. I cannot conclusively say one way or another if the turf caused the injury or not. The common sentiment I see from Packers fans is the turf was so poor that it wouldn't allow Jordy's foot to come free when he pivoted, causing the ligament to tear.

I make absolutely no claims to the role of the turf and the knee injury. Don't misconstrue anything I say as medical advice or a diagnosis.

But, I am serving as an objective analyst of such a common sports injury.

Torn ACLs are an all-too-common result of playing sports, especially when pivoting is involved. In fact, it's estimated that 60-80% of all ACL injuries are non-contact, just like how Jordy tore his. (I recommend you read the article that I have linked here).

Jordy tore his ACL when he jumped up for an Aaron Rodgers pass, landed slightly awkwardly, and then pivoted to his left using his right leg as his plant.

The pictures below breakdown the injury with different camera angles.

In the first picture, you can see how he is trying to pivot to his left using his right plant leg. Nothing looks too unusual or compromising from this angle.

In the picture below, it becomes more apparent that he is stressing the knee. His right toes are pointing sharply to the right while he is attempting to turn his body to the left. This appears to be the product of simply how he landed before he decided to turn quickly. 

Something had to give. Unfortunately, it was his right ACL.

Specifically, Jordy is twisting his knee in a dangerous position called "the point of no return." This movement rotates the thigh and lower leg in opposite directions. When this position is reached, nothing can be done to stop the tearing process. An ACL tear is inevitable. 

This twisting action can happen on grass, wood, concrete, tile, etc. It's extremely easy to tear an ACL through a simple pivot move. ACL injuries often have more to do with the torque associated with pivoting than anything to do with cleats getting stuck in grass. Basketball players can tear their ACLs on a hardwood floor without any cleats ever getting stuck in it.

The video below does an excellent job explaining how ACL injuries occur with twisting past the point of no return. I think it also helps explain the Jordy Nelson injury and puts things into perspective.

The Nelson injury is devastating and puts a damper on an otherwise exciting training camp. We can argue over the risks of preseason and bemoan and criticize the turf at Heinz Field.

But it doesn't change the fact it did happen, and ACL injuries are an inherent risk of all sports and can occur at any time with little force or contact.

In the meantime, it's next man up and we all wish the best of recoveries to Jordy Nelson. He'll be back next year as good as new, and hopefully he'll help the Packers defend their Super Bowl 50 title.

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Comments (15)

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croatpackfan's picture

August 26, 2015 at 02:04 pm

Thanks for explanation. It is always easier to accept bad when you understand why...

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Dan Stodola's picture

August 26, 2015 at 02:37 pm

It was obvious it was an ACL as soon as it happened. He planted his foot and torqued right away to make a move. Classic ACL tear, no question. The good news is there was no other damage to the MCL or miniscus.

The field had nothing whatsoever to do w the injury.

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Evan's picture

August 26, 2015 at 02:38 pm

What are you, a former strength and conditioning coach or something?

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Dan Stodola's picture

August 26, 2015 at 02:46 pm

LOL

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Ibleedgreenmore's picture

August 26, 2015 at 02:55 pm

It could bum me out all year, I mean it is always something that we have to overcome.

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Tundraboy's picture

August 26, 2015 at 06:33 pm

Agree. Be nice not to have to overcome something as major as this. Never easy it seems.

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The TKstinator's picture

August 26, 2015 at 04:31 pm

I will be very careful when I get up off the couch and pivot to go into the kitchen after reading this.

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MarkinMadison's picture

August 26, 2015 at 07:28 pm

There you go, confusing people with facts. So fine. But Solider Field still sucks.

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aj's picture

August 26, 2015 at 09:27 pm

Honestly, I'm not as angry about losing Jordy as I would be were it own of our defensive stars or another important player. Not because I feel any of our players can ultimately step up and match Jordy's stats alone, but because this is the type of injury that can inspire a club. Rather than expecting Adams or Rodgers 2 to replace Jordy, I'm expecting the team as a whole to elevate their game. I'm still excited about the season, and I still am hoping that we can bring back the Lombardi where it belongs. Jordy is a great player and an even better person, but the team will be fine. I'm excited to see Jordy's return in 2016 to help us defend our prospective championship.

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croatpackfan's picture

August 27, 2015 at 03:49 am

It is 100% correct fan attitude...

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Jon Lee's picture

August 26, 2015 at 09:44 pm

The problem with this story is that Jordy said he didn't pivot on his right leg in a story on the jsonline website.

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Jay Hodgson's picture

August 27, 2015 at 05:56 am

Pictures are hard.

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sheppercheeser's picture

August 27, 2015 at 07:02 am

It's hard to understand how such a small ligament (as shown on the video) could have such a huge impact on a knee's stability. And as a Shark Tank idea, I think the sports medicine guys should devise a way to attach a Kevlar strand or something similar to bolster the ligament.

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ray nichkee's picture

August 27, 2015 at 01:05 pm

Nice tits, at least the picture looks good, i mean it. Are they attached to kevlar so they dont sag? Wow, nice tits.

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BradHTX's picture

August 27, 2015 at 07:47 am

Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world's first bionic wide receiver. Jordy Nelson will be that man. Better than he was before. Better... Stronger... Faster...

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