Adelaide: Ben Rutten – Adelaide appear to have escaped with a relatively injury-free pre-season. The biggest question mark entering the NAB Cup is over the fitness of Ben Rutten, who had surgery on his foot earlier this month. Rutten has had an up-and-down battle with plantar fasciitis throughout the summer. Plantar fasciitis is thought to be caused by tiny tears in the plantar fascia, a sheet of tissue that supports the sole of the foot. When the plantar fascia is stretched (in walking and flexing the toes upwards), the tears are stretched, causing pain. If the condition is not relieved by rest, detaching the plantar fascia from the heal bone can be done to stop it from being stretched. This procedure is not without complications and I will certainly be keeping a close eye on how he runs out games in season 2012.
Brisbane: Daniel Merrett – Merrett developed a stress fracture in his spine halfway through last season and has been on the sidelines since. If the Lions are to climb the ladder in season 2012, a much improved defensive performance is necessary. In the 11 games Merrett played last year the Lions conceded an average of 89 points per game, compared to 115 per game after he was sidelined, underlining his importance to the young side. Stress fractures of the spine are not a common injury in AFL, so much of our knowledge comes from cricket, where on average upwards of 4 first-class fast bowlers are diagnosed with stress fractures of the spine every year in Australia. Recent studies suggest that, in fast bowlers, certain actions that place more side-to-side stress on the lower back increase the risk of these injuries. Unlike conventional fractures caused by random events, stress fractures are often related to physical risk factors and so it is important not just to heal the fracture, but to eliminate the risk of recurrence through physiotherapy and retraining of certain movements and posture. Signs are looking good for Merrett and after a long preseason with the Lions sports science team, Lions fans should be optimistic that he can anchor their defense in 2012.
Carlton: Chris Judd – Is any footy list complete without Chris Judd? Judd’s shoulder troubles are well documented and this pre-season has been nothing out of the ordinary for Judd. After developing shoulder pain through the early stages of the pre-season, Judd had scans which prompted his surgeon to perform a “tweak” to the shoulder rather than a reconstruction. What I can gather from the scant reports is that Judd had some degree of impingement to the rotator cuff muscles, which was released. Rotator cuff impingement usually occurs as the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles pass under the acromion process (the “A” part of the famous “AC joint”). This causes pain and restricted movement. Once a release is performed, symptoms subside fairly quickly and complications are minimal. This is all good news for Carlton fans, who will be hoping that Judd can lead their star-studded midfield all the way to October.
Collingwood: Alan Didak – Regardless of whether you think he’s past his prime or not, we all have to begrudgingly admit that a fully fit and inform Alan Didak would’ve been pretty handy in Collinwood’s attempt at a premiership defence in 2011. Likewise, if he can recapture his best form and fitness in 2012, Didak will be important in Collingwood’s tilt at a 2nd premiership in three years. Those are some big “ifs”. Didak tore an adductor two weeks out from the Nab Cup and will be managed fairly conservatively. At this stage of his career, Didak will want to do everything in his power to prevent that injury from becoming chronic, which would do seriously hinder his chances of recapturing top form. The fact that there are numerous adductor muscles (if you’re in the lucky 33%, you even have one extra) means that there is no appreciable loss of function at the hip for most adductor tears. However, the action of hip adduction is used so frequently and the pain so intense, that any problem with the hip adductors is tough to ignore. Collingwood will keep Didak in cottonwool through the NAB Cup and will probably give him plenty of time to train up to full fitness before he has his first start a few rounds into the season.
Essendon: Michael Hurley – Hurley has had his fair share of injury troubles throughout his short but promising career. He has had the standard set of injuries for someone building a key position frame: an ongoing stress injury in the foot, quadriceps strain, fractured wrist and now a hamstring strain. These are fairly common injuries and it would be a misnomer to call Hurley “injury prone”. However, his importance to an evolving Essendon line-up cannot be emphasised strongly enough, and his fitness in 2012 will be vital if they are to go deeper into September. It is unlikely that Hurley will make the trip and test his hamstring in Perth for the first round of the NAB Cup, but he is likely return to the Bombers line-up before the start of the home and away season. Essendon’s coaching staff will be keen to see how Hurley uses his bigger frame in marking contests, while the fitness staff will be keen to see how they can manage his bigger frame off the field and avoid any soft-tissue injuries.
Fremantle: David Mundy – Mundy tore his syndesmosis in early July and appeared to have exacerbated that injury when he returned later in the season. The syndesmosis is an extremely important collection of ligaments that stabilises the ankle. So important is the stabilising function of these ligaments that some tears will cause the tibia and fibula to spread apart, and so screws are required to hold them together while the ligaments heals. It is believed that Mundy had this operation performed, with the screws removed in November. This has obviously caused some interruptions to his pre-season, with Ross Lyon recently calling a round 1 return “optimistic” for the injured Mundy. Freo fans (that includes me) will be praying for a fast return to fitness and form, with hopefully no hiccups. Unfortunately, ankles are notorious for hiccups.
Geeling: Nathan Vardy – Geelong have a fight on their hands to defend their 2011 premiership. Teams like Collingwood, West Coast, Carlton, Hawthorn, Sydney and Fremantle all have some tricks up their sleeves in the ruck division. The recruitment of Orren Stephenson may prove a masterstroke for this famous Geelong side, but the fitness of emerging ruckman Nathan Vardy is something that all Geelong fans will be keenly following. Vardy impressed in nine games last season, before being sidelined with a serious hip injury. Hips are prone to degeneration, so Geelong will be keen for him to have regular followups with his surgeon. Vardy went in for two rounds of surgery over the preseason, but after returning to full running, he appears set to challenge for selection in the early part of the season.
Gold Coast: Sam Day – Day injured the cartilage in his knee (meniscus) last July and wasn’t seen since. A conservative approach to his management was taken and that seems to have paid off. Short-term, this kind of injury is not difficult to overcome. Long-term, isolated meniscus tears carry only a marginally better prognosis than ACL injuries. The menisci (there are two) play an important role in distributing forces in the knee, and any minor imperfections accelerate and accentuate “wear and tear”. He’ll be fit and firing this season after a late trip to altitude, but Suns fans should cross their fingers that he keeps his right knee out of harm’s way. He will be integral to the future of the Suns if he can keep his knees in good shape.
Greater Western Sydney: Jonathon Patton – GWS shouldn’t be overly concerned about injuries this year. The line “conservative approach” will probably be used in every GWS press conference. They have the luxury of building a team and building their players into the rigours of AFL football. Number 1 draft pick Jonathon Patton is currently experiencing this conservative and luxurious approach, recovering from Swedish knee surgery (that almost sounds pleasant). Patton was greatly restricted by patella tendinopathy as a junior. GWS have invested in expensive surgery, hoping that it will help him reach his full potential in the AFL. The knee has fairly complex anatomy and works via several mechanisms. One of those mechanisms is the movement of the patella, aided by the quadriceps muscles above and the patella tendon below. Patella tendinopathy occurs when the patella tendon is repeatedly overloaded (as is the case in repetitive jumping), causing tiny tears. If these tears are not allowed to heal properly, they heal with tough scar tissue. Patton went to Sweden to have surgery that has been performed little more than 300 times. The procedure involves destroying the tiny blood vessels and nerves that supply the scar tissue. Recent studies show that this procedure has about a 90% success rate in terms of reducing pain. GWS will continue to monitor Patton closely, but at this stage it appears as though he is not one of the unlucky 10%.