New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones is reportedly “likely to miss multiple games” after leaving Sunday’s contest against the Baltimore Ravens with what later was diagnosed as a high ankle sprain.
We already looked at what the injury means from a Patriots perspective and how they might replace their QB1 moving forward. Now, however, let’s focus on the sprain itself and what it means from Jones’ perspective; his diagnosis, treatment and eventual outlook in terms of recovery and return to the field.
Before doing that, however, a quick explainer. We don’t know the full diagnosis and can only work with the information available. Accordingly, estimates might be off and turn out to be inaccurate. Such is the nature of things, unfortunately.
What is a high ankle sprain? A high ankle sprain occurs when a person either tears or damages the ligaments that connect the calf bone (fibula) and shin bone (tibia). The ankle itself, which connects the leg and foot bones, is divided into an upper and a lower section, hence the general distinction between the two types of spreads; low and high, with the latter affecting the ligaments in the high ankle.
Damage to the ligaments can happen in various ways, but usually comes when they are stressed in sudden and unnatural ways. In Mac Jones’ case, that stress was caused by Ravens defensive lineman Calais Campbell — who is listed at 307 pounds — landing on him and accidentally twisting the ankle to the side in the process.
Swelling and bruising as well as an inability to put weight on the injured ankle are symptoms to diagnose a sprain.
How is it treated? Immediately after suffering the injury and for up to five days afterwards, the therapy consists of four factors: rest, cooling, bandaging and foot elevation. During that time, putting weight on the ailing ankle will be difficult meaning that crutches might be needed for movement.
Afterwards, a brace or cast, or even some tape, might be used to stabilize the affected area. From a therapeutic perspective, elastic bands or in-water exercise might be recommended. Using those methods of treatment in combination with rest and time is oftentimes enough to treat the sprain to a full recovery.
However, in severe cases — Jones’ sprain has been described as such — surgery might be needed. If he and the team so choose, they might opt for so-called tightrope surgery. As opposed to traditional surgery that will insert screws that will have to be removed again at a later point, a tightrope procedure will see a polyethylene cord implanted with the goal of restoring the original position of the bones while also providing more flexibility.
“The high ankle ligaments are really important for stability of the joint. So either it’s a lot of time — it could be two months of healing — or then sometimes, patients are good candidates for the tightrope procedure, which basically supports where the high ankle ligaments are,” Dr. Jess Flynn, a sports medicine physician at Lahey Hospital and Medical Center in Burlington, told the Boston Herald. “It helps the ankle to heal more quickly.”
How long does the recovery take? This is where we will have to enter speculative territory a bit, because we don’t know the full severity of Jones’ sprained ankle. Using non-surgical methods, recovery might take around six to eight weeks depending on factors such as the grade of sprain and the patient itself.
If surgery is needed, however, tightrope surgery will likely be the way to go. Former Alabama and current Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa underwent the procedure back in 2018, and just 28 days later appeared in the National Championship Game. Obviously, such a timeline would present a best-case scenario for New England and its own QB.
What is Mac Jones’ outlook? That is the million dollar question. We know that high ankle sprains are neither career-threatening nor really career-altering, and that Jones returning at a later date this season seems like a given unless he suffers a major setback in his rehabilitation process.
The biggest question at the moment, however, is whether or not he will have to undergo surgery. If he does, the tightrope method mentioned above would make sense if it can indeed speed up the recovery a bit.