Should Broncos Fans, Fantasy Owners Worry About Montee Ball's Appendectomy?

Dave Siebert, M.D.Featured ColumnistAugust 8, 2014

Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball takes a handoff before the start of the NFL Broncos Summer Scrimmage at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
Chris Schneider/Associated Press

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Denver Broncos running back Montee Ball underwent an appendectomy on Monday. Schefter's source added the Broncos expect Ball to recover in time for the regular-season opener.

The Denver Post's Mike Klis noted the running back returned home by Wednesday to continue his recovery.

While it's a surgical emergency, when doctors catch appendicitis early and operate soon thereafter, appendectomies represent one of the more common and routine surgeries out there. As such, there is no reason to expect any limitations for Ball after he returns to full speed.

A brief look at the former University of Wisconsin Badger's condition—and the surgery he needed—shows why Broncos fans can breathe easy.

It all started in his abdomen.

Most of the time, appendicitis declares itself via vague abdominal pain near the belly button. This often occurs as a result of a blockage of the opening of the appendix—a hollow, pencil-like intestinal pouch that hangs off the beginning of the large intestine, ending in a dead end.

This diagram shows a crude representation of the intestines within the lower abdomen as viewed from the front. It shows the location, shape and relative size of the appendix.
This diagram shows a crude representation of the intestines within the lower abdomen as viewed from the front. It shows the location, shape and relative size of the appendix.Wikimedia Commons.

When such a blockage occurs, pressure within the now-closed pouch rises. When that pressure reaches a critical point, the inside walls of the appendix begin to erode as a result of poor blood flow, and bacteria—already present throughout the entirety of the intestines—invade the erosions and cause an infection.

As the infection sets in, pain often migrates to the lower-right side of the abdomen, signaling the spreading effects of the resulting inflammation.

Eventually, the eroding walls of the appendix will break open and allow the infection to spread into the abdomen—and eventually elsewhere in the body.

Fortunately, it seems doctors identified Ball's condition well before that point. According to head coach John Fox—via's Jeff Legwold—the diagnosis came early on during the disease process.

He started feeling the effects, not feeling really good yesterday and then of course came in today not feeling very good, which is typical of that prognosis," Broncos coach John Fox said after Monday's practice. "Our medical people got him to the doctor and determined that's what it was. It didn't explode or anything, the bad end of that. It's really a blessing we caught it now.

Once doctors made the diagnosis, surgery likely followed within a few to several hours. By operating as soon as possible following the diagnosis, doctors—usually a general surgeon and his or her team—minimized the chance of the appendix perforating and leading to the possibility of a severe infection.

In an otherwise-healthy athlete like Ball, it's safe to assume surgery proceeded via a laparoscopic approach.

Laparoscopic technique—rather than an open abdominal technique—uses small incisions to introduce a small camera and surgical instruments into the abdominal cavity to locate, identify and cut out the inflamed appendix. Without the source of the problem, antibiotics—usually started prior to surgery—and a short period of not eating will allow the intestines to recover.

If all goes well, a patient will often leave the hospital just a day or two following an uncomplicated laparoscopic appendectomy. The small incisions will heal over the next few weeks, and a full return to activity will come shortly thereafter.

As mentioned, there is not yet reason to suspect Ball will miss any regular-season time. As doctors discharged him from the hospital on a routine timetable, there is also little reason to suspect a serious infection or complication.

Nevertheless, the lack of preseason reps may trouble fantasy owners, potentially bringing about concern for a slow start to the season.

That said, the past week's developments should not affect Ball's long-term fantasy standing whatsoever. If his draft position does change throughout leagues, it should do so minimally—if at all—and only as a result of him missing preseason reps, workouts and conditioning, not due to future limitations.


Dr. Dave Siebert is a second-year resident physician at the University of Washington who plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.

Please note that many causes of abdominal pain exist, and medical information discussed above should not be used to diagnose any condition—appendicitis or otherwise—in any person.