Michael Crabtree had his stitches removed today following surgery to repair a torn, right Achilles tendon on
March May 22. So what's next for the 49ers' No. 1 wideout? If he plans on playing in 2013 - and Jim Harbaugh has been consistent in saying the injury isn't season-ending - he will need to get to work right away.
Dr. Dan Solomon, an orthopedic surgeon with Marin Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Novato, said an aggressive course of action would get Crabtree in the pool and working on his range of motion as soon as the surgical wound heals. The rehabilitation routine for Achilles injuries has been honed and improved over the last decade or so, which is one of the reasons why the injury is not the career-ender it used to be.
One of the things we know about Crabtree's injury is that - unlike, say, Baltimore Ravens' linebacker Terrell Suggs' last year - it was a complete tear. That's not good. The Achilles tendon attaches the calf muscle to the heel bone. Partial tears like Suggs' means that there are parts of the six-inch tendon that are still intact. That not only is beneficial for a speedier recovery, it means there is no guesswork as far as figuring out the right amount of tension in the tendon.
When there's a complete tear, the surgeon has to make an educated guess - usually involving the other, undamaged Achilles - as far as how much tension to give the tendon when it is reattached. Solomon said tears that occur at either end of the tendon are easier to repair than tears in the middle. For one, there is better blood flow at the end points. Two, the tension is easier to determine.
Solomon likened the tendon to a rope. When it is cut, there are all sorts of strands that much be reattached. "The more it looks like the end of a mop," he said, "the more difficult it's going to be."
It's hard to decipher Harbaugh when it comes to injuries because he never would allow any doubt or woe-is-us sentiment to seep into his comments and because he is purposefully vague when it comes to medical issues. However, the fact that he's been consistently sanguine when it comes to Crabtree's prognosis probably means the surgery was a success and the tension issue was resolved.
He said that in both Crabtree's case and that of running back Kendall Hunter, who tore his Achilles Nov. 25, team surgeon Tim McAdams was "very confident and felt very good about the operations." Hunter's recovery has been a success, and he is on track to rejoin his teammates at the start of training camp in late July.
Solomon, meanwhile, said that the most optimistic time table for Crabtree returning to the field is six months, which would allow him to be back for the final month of the regular season. But that's assuming a lot of things go exceedingly well for the wide receiver, and there's a lot that needs to occur between now and late November.
"I think everything would have to line up perfectly for him to be back this year," Solomon said.
-- Matt Barrows