While orthopedic injuries tend to dominate the headlines in professional sports leagues such as the NFL, neurological or vascular injuries can occur in conjunction and often can be limb/life threatening. Chicago Bears tight end Zach Miller caught a pass in the end zone during their game against the New Orleans Saints when he landed awkwardly on his left leg and came up lame in obvious pain/distress.
His injury was initially diagnosed as a fracture of his leg but was later diagnosed as a knee dislocation. A dislocation the bones that make up that joint are separated often times due to trauma. In Miller’s case, his Femur(thigh bone) and Tibia(shin bone) were separated. It is not known at this time whether Miller suffered any fractures along with this dislocation but it is likely that he will require surgery to repair any soft tissue(ligament) damage that occurred.
What happened in conjunction with Miller’s dislocation turned out to be the more pressing concern for the NFL veteran. Miller also suffered a rupture of his popliteal artery. Miller’s leg was stabilized by on field medical personnel and was rushed to the University Medical Center of New Orleans where he underwent emergency vascular surgery to repair the damaged blood vessel. He is currently being monitored to ensure proper healing/blood flow following his surgery.
The popliteal artery originates from the femoral artery which runs from our groin down the front/inside of our thigh. The Popliteal artery can be found on the posterior aspect of our knee and branches into its various divisions below the knee where it supplies blood flow to our entire lower leg. It is not difficult to see why a rupture of this artery( or any for that matter) is an emergency medical condition. When an artery is damaged, the blood flow to the areas of the body that are supplied by that vessel is impaired which leads to tissue ischemia. Prolonged ischemia of 6-8 hours can lead to irreversible tissue death and can result in amputation being the only means of preserving a limb.
While Miller’s injury is a very rare case, it is important for all medical personnel (on or off the field) to properly evaluate neurovascular integrity of a patient’s limbs following trauma. This means checking all pulses distal to the injury sight and assessing sensation to rule out any nerve or blood vessel damage. Making sure to not forget this crucial step can ensure that patients do not endure long term health ramifications due to late detection of neurovascular damage.