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Painful calf will continue to keep Luck on Colts' sideline

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck warms up during a recent practice in Westfield.

Last week, Kevin Durant finally broke his silence and made it clear that he did not blame the Warriors for his torn Achilles tendon.

If he came back too soon from the calf strain he had suffered four weeks earlier, it was his decision, entirely.

I had guessed as much in this space eight weeks ago. Yet, while the Warriors did not pressure Durant to play, they did not stop him either.

“It just happened,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “It’s basketball … We just need to move on from that (stuff) because I’m going to be back playing.”

Perhaps.

In that same June 1 column, I referred to a study out of Drexel University College of Medicine and published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2013 that reviewed the outcome for the 18 NBA players who had suffered Achilles ruptures from 1988 -2011. In all, only 11 ever came back and three of them lasted just one season.

Last month, a more comprehensive review out of Brown University’s medical school was published, also in AJSM. This investigation spanned 1970-2018 and identified 44 such tears in the NBA. The news was not much more encouraging. Nine of those injured never played again and another eight, who did return, played in fewer than 10 games.

For those who made it back, the average time to return was 10.5 months. So, Durant — now employed by the Brooklyn Nets — very well may be playing by season’s end but just barely. If and when he does return, though, expect a significant dropoff in quality. The Brown study found that a victim’s Player Efficiency Rating dropped by 2.9 points on average.

With a career PER of 25.2, Durant ranks ninth highest all-time. (Michael Jordan is first with a rating of 27.91.) If he were to drop nearly three points, Durant would go from being an MVP candidate to a borderline All-Star.

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All those discouraging numbers — odds of recovery, recovery time, and drop-off in level of play — probably explain the abundance of caution currently being displayed with a calf strain by the Colts. The object of that caution is quarterback Andrew Luck. In published reports last week, Colts head coach Frank Reich conceded Durant's experience had crossed his mind.

Luck’s injury dates back to April and he will return no earlier than Wednesday. However, I would be shocked if the Colts trotted him out for the first time during a joint practice with another team, the Browns.

Members of the Indianapolis media are concerned and puzzled. “It’s impossible,” wrote Indianapolis Star columnist Gregg Doyel, “a strained calf sidelining an NFL athlete for three months and still being so problematic.”

Well, no, it is not.

The scientific literature suggests that a strained calf requires two months to heal. That is an average. Some take shorter; some longer. Those who claim to care about the Colts should be less concerned with time and more with healing.

If the calf is not fully healed before a resumption of full participation, Luck is likely to suffer a re-injury — or worse. Published reports indicate that the pain is near his ankle. Where have we heard that before? When Durant first injured his calf during the playoffs, the Warriors initially feared an Achilles tear.

Luck did attempt to play briefly in practice two weeks ago and experienced what all describe as a “setback.”

With the rash of season-ending, preseason injuries already experienced around the NFL, the Colts, then, are taking no chances. Nor should they.

Luck should return only when he has full pain-free range of motion, normal strength, the ability to run without a limp, and a satisfactory MRI. And even if all those milestones are achieved during the preseason, there is no point in playing him in a game until the regular season starts.

John Doherty is a licensed athletic trainer and physical therapist. This column reflects solely his opinion. Reach him at jdoherty@comhs.org. Follow him on Twitter @JDohertyATCPT.

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