Analyzing Austin Seferian-Jenkins' Foot Injury, Stress Fracture Surgery

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Analyzing Austin Seferian-Jenkins' Foot Injury, Stress Fracture Surgery
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Former University of Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins missed NFL Scouting Combine workouts due to a foot injury—specifically a stress fracture—discovered during combine medical exams.

According to CBSSports.com's Rob Rang, Seferian-Jenkins underwent surgery to stabilize the fracture shortly after the diagnosis.

With proper rehabilitation, the former Husky should fully recover well before the 2014 NFL season. Additionally, his draft stock may for the large part hold steady, though much depends on the nature and precise location of his injury.

A stress fracture—as the name suggests—occurs when repetitive use of a particular muscle group and bone causes the area to fatigue, transferring an abnormally high amount of stress onto the bone itself. Over time, the added stress wears the bone down until it begins to slowly suffer damage over a period of days and weeks.

All the while, the body's healing and repair cells chug away, trying to repair the damage as it occurs.

Nevertheless, if the use-versus-repair balance tips too far in the wrong direction for too long, the bone cannot keep up and starts to crack. If an athlete continues to put stress on the ailing area, that crack can continue to extend all the way through the bone and become an outright fracture—hence Seferian-Jenkins being held from workouts once doctors made the diagnosis.

Wikimedia Commons.
X-rays may not always show a stress fracture.

Regrettably, the diagnosis of a stress fracture is not always an easy one. Symptoms may come on quite quietly over a relatively long period of time.

Furthermore, early on in the stress fracture process, X-rays may not reveal a problem, as changes within the bone can remain extremely subtle. Instead, another radiographic technique such as an MRI may be necessary.

Common stress fracture locations include the tibia—or shin bone—and, as in Seferian-Jenkins' case, the foot. Specifically, the metatarsals—the bones of the midfoot—often come into play.

Frequently, metatarsal stress fractures only require rest and immobilization in order to allow the body's aforementioned healing process to catch up with the damage. With enough time, the bone will reconnect—usually without any complications.

In some cases, however, an athlete may require surgery to ensure proper healing.

Wikimedia Commons.
Stress fractures in the fifth metatarsal—seen here in green—present a unique set of challenges for an athlete.

For instance, a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal—or the bone that connects the little toe to the ankle bones—can become problematic. Compared to other metatarsal stress fractures, fifth metatarsal injuries are prone to instability and displacement—or separation and movement of the broken ends from one another.

Surgery helps protect against that displacement.

By using metal hardware to fix the fracture into place while it reconnects and heals, a surgeon can artificially reinforce the ongoing repair. Doing so decreases the risk of malunion or nonunion—or where a bone heals together at an anatomically incorrect angle or not at all, respectively.

Medical details are not publicly available, but the need for surgery suggests Seferian-Jenkins' injury may indeed involve his fifth metatarsal.

As for the tight end's draft stock, much will depend on future radiographs and examinations—possibly at the NFL's medical recheck day in April. Dr. Matt Matava—president of the NFL Physicians Society—described the recheck to this author as a kind of rehabilitation status report:

The medical re-visit is for the guys who are currently undergoing treatment, have a surgery scheduled for a condition or are not yet completely rehabilitated.

...

At this stage in the recovery, we can't learn very much from an examination. ... These players will come back ... so we can have a better idea or how they are doing in their recuperation.

If Seferian-Jenkins does attend the medical recheck day, doctors will attempt to tease out how well his bone is healing. They may take more images of his foot, and they will also look for any signs of infection in the area.

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Additionally, overall healing speed depends largely on the degree of blood supply to the injured area, and different areas of the bone receive varying amounts.

In Seferian-Jenkins' case, Rang notes that initial recovery projections come in at about eight weeks, a timeline that will hold the prospect out of UW's pro day.

That said, if all goes well—and with the caliber of his surrounding medical staff, there is no reason to think it won't—the offensive standout may still come out of it all as a bona fide elite draft pick.

In other words, as long as he avoids malunion or nonunion, his ceiling remains high. Just ask Matt Miller—Bleacher Report's NFL draft lead writer.

"One of the most complete tight ends in the class, Sefarian-Jenkins saw a drop in production this year but is a late first-, early second-round-caliber prospect," Miller explained. "He'll never be an elite mover, but his combination of strength, agility and hands make him a Day 1 starter."

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Additionally, the author does not have access to Seferian-Jenkins' personal medical information.

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