Detroit Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson has had a tough 12 months when it comes to injuries. His 2012 season came to an early close when he suffered a broken leg that required surgery before the halfway mark. With just three games under his belt this season, Burleson again suffered a fracture -- two, in fact -- this time in his left forearm.
The latest injury did not happen on the football field but was the result of a single-car accident in which Burleson was the driver. According to ESPN's Ed Werder, the accident did not involve alcohol but appears rather to have been a case of distracted driving. Burleson is expected to undergo surgery Wednesday to repair the two forearm bones, the radius and the ulna. The team has not issued a timetable for his return, but, according to ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein, coach Jim Schwartz says the Lions do expect Burleson to return this season.
Although complete assessment of the injury will take place during surgery, it would appear Burleson's recovery timetable would make him a good candidate for the IR/designated for return. Unfortunately, that is not an option for the Lions because they have already used that singular designation on running back (and special-teams player) Montell Owens, who is out with a knee injury.
So, how long will the Lions be without Burleson? As noted, more will be known after surgery. Beyond evaluating and repairing the fractures themselves -- stabilizing with hardware, most likely plates and screws -- surgeons will have the opportunity to more closely examine the soft tissue in the area. Presuming there are no substantial injuries to blood vessels, nerves, or muscles and tendons in the forearm, the recovery focus will center on the healing of the bones. Fractures typically take about six weeks to heal, but there is the additional demand for a football player of being able to absorb heavy contact through the forearm. Even after a fracture has visibly healed, bone tissue is still undergoing a remodeling process as it continues to shape and strengthen post-injury.
Given the requirements of being able to absorb impact with blocking, or falling onto the forearm (potentially with other bodies superimposed on the player's own weight) for a wideout such as Burleson, there has to be confidence that the bones are sufficiently healed to withstand those stresses. There is a certain element of risk of re-fracture with forearm breaks, as has already been demonstrated by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who re-fractured his surgically repaired ulna in 2013, and Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, who fractured his previously repaired radius in 2010.
It seems unlikely that Burleson would be ready to take the field much sooner than eight weeks, and it certainly could be longer. In addition to the bone healing, he will need to perform aggressive range of motion exercises at the wrist, elbow and forearm to help prevent any residual stiffness commonly associated with these injuries. Strengthening the entire arm and restoring "game-ready" football conditioning also will be a part of Burleson's program in the weeks ahead.