Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who is suffering from turf toe, has not been ruled out for Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints.
If he's able to play, it would be a near miraculous recovery from one of sports' notoriously nasty injuries.
"These ligaments take about eight to 12 weeks to heal," said Dr. Steven Weinfeld, the chief of foot and ankle surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "It's very hard to keep a professional athlete out of the game for that long, but that's usually how long they take to heal."
Ryan suffered his injury early in the Falcons' Nov. 29 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He did not play last week against the Philadelphia Eagles. It's possible he will at least test the injury or return to practice perhaps in a limited capacity Wednesday.
It looked like a regular old play when Ryan scrambled to his right, but a couple of Buccaneers tackled him from behind. Ryan didn't return to the game.
"The bottom line is that it is a sprain of the ligaments on the bottom of the big toe," said Dr. Jon Hyman, a Harvard University-trained orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine expert who has worked with the Falcons, Hawks, Thrashers and New York Giants. "It usually happens when somebody is forced to flex their big toe.
"Typically you are on the ground and somebody falls on the back of your leg or jams on your heel," Hyman said. "That forces your toe to kind of bend back too far, and it damages the ligaments on the bottom of the toe."
Ryan's injury is to his right big toe, and he had trouble planting his back foot on the sideline after he was injured.
The Falcons team doctor, Dr. Scott Gillogly, is not available to the media. Head coach Mike Smith releases all the medical information per team policy.
Gillogly is a member of the Atlanta Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Center, which provides team doctors for the Falcons and the Thrashers.
On the firm's Web site it lists the three grades of turf toe injuries.
• Grade 1: This injury is a mild sprain. There is localized pain ...
• Grade 2: This sprain results in diffuse tenderness with moderate swelling, bruising, and decreased range of motion ...
• Grade 3: This injury causes severe pain with a lot of swelling, bruising, and loss of motion. A complete tear of the capsule and ligament complex has occurred with compression of the joint surface."
On Monday, Smith did not reveal the grade of Ryan's turf toe.
"He has made progress through the first week," Smith said. "Like we said last week, we are going to take this week to week, and the next update will be on Wednesday."
A player can come back quickest from the Grade 1 sprain, Weinfeld and Hyman said.
"For grade one, you certainly do something to stiffen the shoe," Weinfeld said. "You can put a steel plate or carbon fiber plate in the sole of the shoe; that is one way to do that. An insert in the shoe can sometimes do it, or even taping the toe down to prevent the toe from bending up also can help. All of those things limit motion of that joint."
Several players have had their careers ended by turf toe, including Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert, running back Eddie George, former Falcon Deion Sanders and NBA player Charles Oakley.
"A lot of these types of injuries can become chronic," Weinfeld said. "If the player feels better, he might not be all better and then will aggravate the thing throughout the rest of the season. Then it becomes a chronic condition until the offseason when you can stay off of it and rest the foot."
The Falcons, even with their playoff hopes on the line, will likely be extra cautious with Ryan's toe and protect their six-year, $72 million investment.
"It's a small joint, but it can shut you down if it becomes a reoccurring problem," Hyman said. "That's one of the reasons why it's so important to let it heal properly the first time."
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