Despite suffering a left high ankle sprain in the AFC title game, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey seems extremely confident he will be ready for Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 against the Green Bay Packers. But in our experience -- most recently with the quarterbacks of the Cleveland Browns -- this injury has kept players sidelined for about a month.
So the AFC North blog checked in with ESPN medical expert Stephania Bell to get some insight on whether Pouncey recovering in half the time is possible or a pipedream for the Steelers.
Stephania, let's start with what exactly is a high ankle sprain and why it's more severe than regular ankle sprains?
Bell: It's really where the injury is located. The most common ankle sprain, for instance if you're playing pickup basketball, is when you roll your ankle. Someone goes up to the basket, shoots, lands usually on another player's foot and turns an ankle. The foot points in and all that stress goes to the outside of the ankle and that injures the ligaments down where the ankle attaches to the foot. With a high ankle sprain, the mechanism is different. It's often that the foot is planted and the player's leg gets twisted around. And what happens is it damages the ligaments that are basically at the top of the ankle joint. These are the ligaments that form the roof of the ankle joint where the two lower leg bones connect -- the tibia and the fibula. Those two bones are anchored by ligaments and it helps form the top of the ankle joint. So when those two ligaments are damaged, that's called a high ankle sprain.
Pouncey is confident he can come back in two weeks from this injury. What's been your experience?
Bell: Usually we give an estimate of four to six weeks for a high ankle sprain of the moderate variety. A severe one could take much longer. But you do have some evidence of guys coming back sooner. If you look at [Houston Texans receiver] Andre Johnson, he said he had a high ankle sprain. He later had problems because he tried to push through it, but Johnson was able to play sooner on a less than 100 percent ankle. I think when you look into the context of two weeks, it's the Super Bowl, and Pouncey doesn't have gross instability or a fracture based on what we know. So it will come down to whether the Steelers get the pain down enough and the swelling down enough that Pouncey can have normal motion in the joint and put pressure through the foot. One of the challenges of a high ankle sprain is every time you weight bear or put pressure over the foot, it puts stress right on those injured ligaments. The good news for Pouncey is he doesn't have to go running down the field. In his case, his position helps him. But perhaps the biggest risk is somebody could land on that ankle or twist it again.
Does Pouncey's age at 21 help at all in this recovery process?
Bell: Yes, in one sense we always feel you heal a little bit faster the younger you are. But also Pouncey hasn't had the same extensive career to have multiple injuries, which then often make it harder to heal. It's all of those variables that factor into it. It's the extent of the injury and how well he heals. We see just in terms of swelling after injury, some people will swell a lot and some don't swell so much. And Pouncey having the experience of having a similar injury [right high ankle sprain in college] and coming back quickly certainly helps.
So there you have it from ESPN medical expert Stephania Bell. Pouncey returning to the Steelers for Super Bowl XLV is not impossible but will certainly be a challenge. We will keep you posted on Pouncey's rehabilitation process until the Super Bowl.