Every doctor I’ve thus far read or heard speak-out on Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler’s thumb fracture all seem to agree on at least one thing: The typical timetable for healing is six to eight weeks. One local specialist I spoke with reiterated this, telling me the exact same thing.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand, seem to have been given slightly different information, as during Monday morning’s press conference head coach Lovie Smith said the team expects to have Cutler back before the end of the regular season.
With six weeks to go, Lovie’s open timetable would speed-up Jay’s recovery time by at least one week, effectively expecting him back within five weeks. But there’s an apparent issue with both timetables—and it’s a fair question to ask: Does either prognosis account for Jay’s affliction with Type-1 Diabetes?
According to Dr. Sheldon Lin, a professor at the New Jersey Orthopedic Institute, it’s not likely. That’s not to say that Cutler’s doctors, specifically, haven’t taken this in to account—they most certainly have—but the prognosis of six to eight weeks is about as optimistic as one can get, given the right information.
Dr. Lin has done specific research on the impacts of Type-1 Diabetes in relation to bone healing. And he shed some light on the potential complications and the process that will likely be used to help Cutler return as soon as possible.
I spoke with Lin—quite the New York Giants fan—for about 20 minutes this morning…
“The healing process [for diabetic patients] is significantly delayed,” Lin said. “It takes almost two times the duration to heal a regular fracture. And that’s been the focus of most of my animal research. If you fell and broke your ankle, lets say, I’d tell you the healing process would take six to eight weeks; I’d tell a diabetic with the same injury 12 to 16 weeks. They do have impaired bone issues and bone fracture issues.”
“But this is where it get’s interesting,” Lin continued. “If you’re a diabetic, and you’re under great control of your diabetes, it is possible to heal relatively normal.”
And given Cutler’s ability to play football at the level he does, it’s safe to assume he’s mastered the day-to-day management of his disease.
With an injury similar to Cutler’s, coupled with excellent management of insulin and glucose levels, Lin would likely put a diabetic patient’s recovery time at somewhere around eight weeks; a hurdle to overcome, no doubt, but by no means out of reach. So, how does one even get down to six weeks?
Lin went on to say that in his mind it’s all but a foregone conclusion that Cutler’s injury will be treated with a form of off-label bone healing adjuvant at the time of surgery, which accelerate the production of bone and have been found to increase healing times by upwards of 39 to 40 percent. “They’re going to throw in a bone stimulator to make it go faster, I’m sure.”
And it appears that this is the scenario that the Chicago Bears are hoping for.
But, according to Lin, simple management of Type-1 and advanced medical techniques are not the only hurdle to overcome. Individuals with diabetes also have a much higher complication rate with bone fractures.
“It’s huge,” Lin said. “There’s a three to four fold increase in complication rates for persons with diabetes; whether it be infection, soft tissue problems or bone issues.” So not only does Jay have to overcome an already increased healing time, he has to hope to avoid any and all potential complications along the way.
It makes it difficult to imagine how the Bears set the timetable as being “before the end of the regular season.” Is it possible? Lin says it is. But unfortunately, it’s not all that probable.
Hunker down, friends; this may be the longest six to eight weeks of the football season.