Updated 11/21/11 – 4:01 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — Most of us could go right back to work if we broke our thumbs, but not so with Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reports, if we were talking about getting well enough to text from your Blackberry, there would not be much concern, but Cutler is the guy who is carrying Bears fans’ playoff hopes in his hands.
For a player as powerful as Jay Cutler, you might wonder how a fracture to something as small as his thumb could sideline him for most of the rest of the season.
“That’s why there is a little bit of an urgency in terms of fixing this. This is not the type of injury that you would want to let heal and then treat him in the offseason,” said Dr. John Fernandez, an orthopedic surgeon at Rush University Medical Center.
Fernandez has worked with his share of injured athletes, as the official orthopedic surgeon for the White Sox and Bulls. He said there’s a difference between Cutler healing and healing enough for professional play.
“It’s a little bit unpredictable. You know, there’s no doubt that he’s tough enough to do it after 6 or 8 weeks. The question is whether or not the fracture will be healed enough to put up with the stress,” Fernandez said.
As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, for a football player, a bum thumb and the procedures necessary to fix it are a big deal.
The specifics of Cutler’s fracture have yet to be revealed, but Dr. Sherwin Ho, head of sports medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center, says Cutler could be back playing in six weeks or even earlier.
“If indeed it occurred in the fourth quarter and he was able to throw the football effectively – and this was his throwing hand – and he was able to throw the ball effectively enough to complete two passes and not grimace every time he threw the ball, that would suggest that it is a smaller or a non-displaced fracture; stable fracture,” Ho said.
In that case, the team physician can choose to fix it surgically, even though it is a stable fracture, in order to get Cutler back on the field sooner.
That is exactly what will happen with Cutler. CBS 2’s Jill Carlson reports he will undergo surgery on his right thumb, and there is hope that he will return to play for the end of the season.
“As a team physician, we oftentimes will recommend that – fixation of a fracture that might not otherwise need fixation during the season, in order for that athlete to get back in play sooner,” Ho said.
Fernandez said such football injuries typically occur in the joints at either the base or middle of the thumb, on either side of a bone called the metacarpal.
“There’s a lot of forces here. I mean, the thumb is responsible for 50 percent of the function of the hand, particularly when it’s being used like this,” Fernandez said.
He also said the injury is quite painful.
“That’s what really amazed me was that he sustained this fracture and was able to play another 10 minutes. I mean, that goes to his toughness,” Fernandez said.
Theoretically, Cutler could return as little as three weeks after surgery, Ho said.
“If it was a non-displaced stable fracture and you left it alone and did not disturb it, it would probably be able to play in about six weeks,” Ho said. “If he felt it was a very stable fracture and he had very good fixation with a plate, or screws, or a combination thereof, then he might say, ‘Well, he could play at four weeks or three weeks after the fracture.’ Obviously, you need time for the soft tissues to heal.”
But Cutler also suffers from type 1 diabetes, the form of the disorder in which the pancreatic cells that produce insulin are destroyed and insulin shots are required. This could slow down his recovery time, Ho said.