November 14, 2013 5:32 pm

Can Steve Stamkos recover in time for the Olympics?

Video: Steven Stamkos breaks leg during Monday’s game vs. Bruins (Nov. 11)

TORONTO – One of Canada’s best hockey players has a broken tibia, a severe injury at an inopportune time just months before the 2014 Olympics.

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Tampa Bay Lightning star centre Steve Stamkos slammed his right leg into a goalpost during a Monday night game in Boston. Sports fans, coaches and doctors watched the crash in slow motion – it didn’t look pretty.

READ MORE: Tampa Bay’s centre Steven Stamkos suffers broken leg

“Sometimes these injuries aren’t as bad as they look, but unfortunately for Steve Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Team Canada, these pictures don’t lie,” Dr. Greg Wells told TSN.

“This is a bad injury.”

What happened to Stamkos’ tibia?

The lower half of Stamkos’ leg smashed into the post while the NHL star was on a back-check, likely displacing his tibia. Wells called it a “worst case scenario.”

This injury is common in athletes, but not so much in hockey players compared to, say, soccer players, Wells told Global News.

He is an exercise physiologist, University of Toronto professor and Sick Kids Hospital scientist.

“A broken bone, you never want to see that in an athlete, though,” Wells explained.

Lower extremity injuries stand for about one third of overall injuries in hockey, but even then tibial fractures are “very rare,” according to Dr. Babak Shadgan. The most common injuries happen around the knee joint, like a ligament injury.

Shadgan is a sports physician and medical researcher at UBC and he’s helped athletes during the past three Olympic Games.

READ MORE: Stamkos injury could hurt Canada in Olympics

By Tuesday, Stamkos was in hospital for surgery. What typically happens is a specially-designed metal rod is inserted in the patient from the knee to the marrow canal of the tibia. The rod passes across the fracture to keep it in position.

“This treatment allow early weight bearing, which is necessary for an expedited bone healing, and earlier mobilization, hence preserving of muscle mass and joint stiffness,” Shadgan said.

What’s next for the hockey star?

His chances of recovering in time for the Sochi Olympics in February 2014 look bleak.

“The fact that he has a broken leg, that it has required surgery, the typical recovery time for surgery for an injury of this nature is in the four- to six-month range,” Wells said.

The range of estimates, according to media reports, point to at least eight to 10 weeks for the bone to heal. Shadgan says the mean length of time taken to return to training is about five to seven months, though.

Team Canada’s first game in the Olympics is also in three months.

“We’d hope that he’d be healthy for the Olympics, but I have no idea at this stage,” Steve Yzerman, the general manager for both Tampa Bay and Team Canada, told reporters.

What could be at play is if coaches and doctors decide to use new techniques that could accelerate the healing process.

“It seems that three months is not enough for a successful and safe return to sport at an Olympic level,” Shadgan told Global News.

Wells agreed: “I would suggest that, at this point and time, it is unlikely that he will be back to play for the Olympics,” Wells said.

The days following his surgery, doctors will closely monitor his leg to watch for early complications.

Following that, Stamkos will be focusing on rehabilitation, according to Wells.

He needs to stimulate the muscles of his lower leg to keep them strong even though he can’t walk on it for a few weeks. And when he gets the green light to walk on his right leg, he’ll have to work on regaining balance.

“There is going to be some significant rehab required once he can do weight-bearing exercises on that leg again,” Wells speculated.

But there is a silver lining: Unlike concussions or other injuries with lingering consequences, Stamkos should be able to recover fully from the broken bone.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2013

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