The 5 injuries that can derail a fantasy season – and what they mean for your team

Fantasy football can be fickle. One day you’re riding high with a team destined for a playoff run, the next you’re getting served Facebook ads for local podiatrists because of all the Googling you did on a Jones fracture.

To know injuries – what they mean, how long a recovery is, and how someone bounces back from it – is an underrated edge for the typical fantasy player. We asked Virginia Zakas of Inside Injuries to explain the five most unfortunate injuries, and what to expect as a player heals.

1. High ankle sprain

What It Is: A high ankle sprain, or syndesmotic sprain, indicates damage to the ligaments that hold the two lower leg bones together. This is called the distal tibiofibular joint, and it’s a completely different joint than the ankle. It sits just above it where the tibia and fibula meet and is held together by three ligaments. When this type of sprain occurs, one or more of these ligaments are damaged. This leads to widening between the bones at the ankle mortise and a lack of stability. High ankle sprains often occur when a player gets rolled up on or hit from the side as their leg is firmly planted. Many low ankle sprains happen without contact, but a syndesmotic sprain often involves some sort of a collision and a twisting motion to the lower leg.

Why It’s Tough to Recover From? These ligaments tend to be slower to heal than the ligaments in the low ankle because of blood flow. It’s also tough to keep those lower leg bones from separating any time weight is put on the leg, so a significant amount of rest is needed. Surgery isn’t usually needed unless it’s a severe ligament tear.

How Much Time Will They Miss? A majority of athletes who suffer a high ankle sprain will miss at least four weeks. Even a “mild” high ankle sprain is not really a mild injury. Athletes often feel like it isn’t that bad early on, but then it just doesn’t seem to progress. We’ve seen players return in as few as two weeks from this injury, but it’s one that significantly hurts performance if they return before it is 100 percent. That’s especially true for positions such as wide receiver and running back that do a lot of cutting. The expectation for most high ankle sprains should be a minimum of three to four weeks out, but realistically it will take even longer to fully recover. A moderate to severe sprain can lead to a six-to-eight-week absence.

Players Who Recently Suffered This Injury: Michael Thomas, Jerry Jeudy, Adam Thielen

2. Hamstring strain

What It Is: The hamstring is a group of muscles in the back of the thigh. A grade 1 (mild) strain indicates small tears to the muscle fibers, but a grade 2 to 3 strain means there is more extensive damage to the muscle.

Why It’s Tough to Recover From? The hamstring is often damaged during quick, powerful movements. These happen on every play, especially for positions such as wide receiver and running back. That makes it a very common non-contact injury. It often starts as just some tightness that the athlete feels like they can handle without rest. Then they try to play through it and it turns into a more serious strain and a lengthier absence. The muscle is left weaker even once it feels like it is healed, so aggravations are common.

How Much Time Will They Miss? A mild strain can heal in two to three weeks, although we often see players return within a week. A grade 2 (moderate) strain takes around a month, and a more significant strain can take six to 12 weeks.

Players Who Recently Suffered This Injury: Christian McCaffrey, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, DeVante Parker

3. MCL sprain

What It Is: The MCL, medial collateral ligament, is one of four knee ligaments that provide stability to the joint. It runs along the inside of the knee and is typically injured when the leg is planted and hit from the outside, forcing it inward. MCL injuries do not usually require surgery and tend to heal well on their own, although it can still lead to a lengthy absence. This ligament is important for preventing the knee from moving too far inward and provides stability during twisting and lateral movements. It is the most common injury to the knee.

Why It’s Tough to Recover From? Though the MCL heals well on its own, it can take a lot of time. Complications are not too common once that ligament is healthy again, but a lengthy period of rest is needed to get to that point. We often see athletes try to return too soon, and one hard cut leads to a significant setback. The MCL is heavily involved in lateral movements and sharp cuts. Any sort of twisting motion or quick change of direction adds stress, so it’s tough to play through.

Players Who Recently Suffered This Injury: Aaron Jones, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Jarvis Landry

4. Turf toe

What It Is: Turf toe indicates damage to the large joint at the base of the big toe, called the metatarsophalangeal (MTP) joint. It might not sound like a big deal, but every lower-body movement starts with this joint. Turf toe occurs when the big toe is forced into hyperextension, damaging the ligament. It could be an acute injury or one that slowly appears and gets worse over time. It is more common on artificial turf (hence the name) because the surface can be a lot harder, putting more stress on the joints.

Why It’s Tough to Recover From? Every time you push off and hyperextend the toe, which happens when doing something as simple as taking a step or more strenuous like cutting and jumping, the MTP joint is involved. Turf toe often becomes a chronic injury that needs continuous management to reduce inflammation. When playing football, it’s impossible to avoid the constant pounding to this area when scrambling, running routes or trying to power through a tackle.

How Much Time Will They Miss? We often see athletes try to play through turf toe, but even a mild case needs at least three weeks to fully heal. Many football players will not recover until they have the offseason to truly rest. Playing through turf toe will significantly hamper performance. More serious cases of turf toe can also lead to surgery or cause a more serious injury, like a fracture to the first metatarsal.

Players Who Recently Suffered This Injury: Josh Allen, Josh Jacobs, Patrick Mahomes, Antonio Gibson

5. Jones fracture

What It Is: A Jones fracture is the name for a fracture at the base of the fifth metatarsal, located on the outside (pinky side) of the foot. The metatarsals are the long bones that run from the toes to the arch. This location is vulnerable to injury when the ankle is forced inward. It can be an acute or an overuse injury.

Why It’s Tough to Recover From? Blood supply to this location in the foot is very poor, so the bone does not heal well on its own. That’s why surgery is typically needed to have a screw inserted for stability. Even then it often isn’t a straightforward recovery. The hardware inserted during surgery can lead to aggravation and needs to be removed months later. There is also often a reason the fracture occurred in the first place – this may be due to the way that athlete moves or the shape of their foot. Something about their running mechanics puts stress on that location, meaning they are vulnerable to injuring it again if they are not able to change how they run.

How Much Time Will They Miss? Most athletes come out of surgery with an expected recovery time of six to eight weeks, but in reality, they won’t be ready to play that quickly. Eight to 10 weeks is much more realistic to return to the field, although even then the bone isn’t always strong enough yet. There’s a high risk of re-fracture in those first few months back, so multiple lengthy absences are common.

Players Who Recently Suffered This Injury: Derrick Henry, Deebo Samuel

(Top photo of Christian McCaffrey: Mike Comer / Getty Images; in-line photo of Aaron Jones: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

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