Robert Griffin III's Knee Injury: Why Sitting RGIII Shows Sound Medical Judgment

Dave Siebert, M.D.@DaveMSiebertFeatured ColumnistDecember 16, 2012

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 16:  Quarterback Robert Griffin III #10 of the Washington Redskins walks by quarterback Kirk Cousins #12 against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 16, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Frankly, it is near-incredible that Robert Griffin III's knee injury almost caused no missed time.

The clip of the injury is quite gruesome, but the fact that the hit resulted in only a grade-one lateral collateral ligament (LCL) sprain is nothing short of miraculous.

RGIII's right knee was clearly hyperextended on the play.  In other words, his knee bent the opposite way it is meant to.  Usually, that causes extensive damage.

This time, it didn't.

Regardless, the injury clip somewhat resembles that of the knee dislocation (warning: video is extremely graphic) of South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore that ended his season.

Obviously, the end result for RGIII is nowhere near as devastating as Lattimore's, as the diagnosis of a knee dislocation, by definition, implies that at least three of the four major ligaments of the knee were torn.  However, there are definitely some similarities.

Nevertheless, RGIII escaped relatively unscathed.

As mentioned, he suffered only a grade-one LCL strain.  That means that when he was hit, the LCL was merely over-stretched and neither partially torn (grade-two) nor completely torn (grade-three).

That is great news, as the LCL is one of the four major ligaments in the knee.  It connects the femur (thigh bone) and fibula (one of the bones of the lower leg), serving to help stabilize and coordinate motion at the knee.

Specifically, it prevents the knee from bending away from the midline of the body, or outward.

Sprains occur when an outside force overwhelms a ligament's ability to prevent such an abnormal motion.

If that force pushes the knee outward, an LCL sprain results.  If it pushes the knee inward, or toward the midline of the body, a sprain of the medial collateral ligament (MCL) occurs.

In addition, depending on the nature of a blow to the knee, multiple ligament sprains can occur simultaneously.  That is what took place in Marcus Lattimore's case.

For example, the classic "unhappy triad" of injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), MCL and medial meniscus occurs when a tackle pushes a knee sharply inward.

Fortunately, RGIII's injury was isolated to his LCL.

After an LCL sprain occurs, the human body works to heal the damage.  In the meantime, however, an injured LCL is significantly weaker than a healthy LCL.

Hits to an injured knee that would not have normally caused damage can do so if a ligament is not at full strength.

That is why benching RGIII was the right move.

Until his LCL is back to full strength, he is vulnerable.

Even if he does not feel limited, and despite how superhuman he is, RGIII's LCL is, for now, not the same.  If he were to be hit in the knees again before his sprain fully heals, the damage could be catastrophic.

Force that would usually be absorbed with ease by a healthy LCL could completely tear it if it is sprained.  Additionally, the other ligaments in the knee would have to make up for the difference, potentially resulting in injury to them, as well.

In other words, playing with even a grade-one LCL sprain carries risks, risks that the Redskins were not willing to take.

Rightly so.

RGIII is in the midst of one of the best rookie seasons in football history, or any sport for that matter, and it is clear that the Washington Redskins (8-6) have found their guy.

As much as they needed a win today, they need their already-superstar quarterback healthy for the long run even more.

And hey, they got the win anyway (via Associated Press).


Dave Siebert is a medical/injury Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report who will be graduating from medical school in June, 2013.  He plans to specialize in both Family Medicine and Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.  Injury and anatomical information discussed above is based on his own knowledge and experience.


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