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Injury update: Reviewing Buffalo Bills DE Mike Love’s pectoral injury

A special collaboration with the Circling The Wagons Podcast.

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Indianapolis Colts v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Eventually, the details of a story — like the layers of an onion — are revealed. Another Buffalo Bills injury report comes via a fellow Buffalo Rumblings contributor, Circling The Wagons podcast. On the show recently, Nate hosted frequent guest, Bills defensive end Mike Love. The interview center around his camp with the Bills, his pectoral injury, and his recovery so far. Today’s article will detail in writing what occurred, how it happened, the surgery he had, and expected recovery.

According to Love, he suffered the injury against the Detroit Lions on a punt return when he reached out while attempting to perform a tackle. The opposing player ran away from Love attempting to tackle him as the returner ran up the field. Love’s left arm was outstretched while attempting to tackle, resulting in him feeling a tear due to the distracting forces. This is an injury that was not apparent at the time with Love able to walk off without any notable compensation. Looking at film, the exact play occurs with 4:50 left in the 4th quarter. Below is a video injury review detailing the moment that he suffered the injury.

Reviewing the specific anatomy and injury, the pectoral muscle connects from the sternum and stretches over the rib cage laterally to attach at the humerus. This is a powerful muscle required for inward rotation, flexion and adduction—all actions required for pushing. These actions are vital for blocking, tackling, and reaching—all important motions required for football.

Pectoral tendon tears occur typically at or near the insertion point, the area that connects to the humerus. These types of injuries frequently occur in weightlifters with an eccentric contraction, such as lowering the bar during a bench press, but can happen in other sports such as football, boxing, and wrestling. In Love’s case, the fact that he was attempting to pull his arm inward to wrap up the returner, the force of the returner suddenly lengthening the muscle, leading to the eccentric contraction, resulting in a tear.

He understood that the injury was serious and felt the arm hanging following the play. According to him, this was an injury that was known but didn’t immediately require surgery. He stated that the MRI showed a partial tear in the pectoral muscle. He had the option to wait six weeks without the guarantee that he wouldn’t eventually need surgery. He ultimately elected to have the surgery on September 4th, about a week and a half prior to the release of the podcast episode.

There are a variety of tears that can occur but it’s likely that he suffered a Type 1 or Type 2. A Type 1 is when the tendon insertion pulls away from the lateral lip of the bicipital groove of the humerus. There is usually a visible deformity in the chest with significant bruising noted. A Type 2 occurs when the tear happens at the musculotendious junction, where the muscle and the tendon meet. Bruising and pain may be present but may be less apparent without further imaging. Considering that it was a partial tear, it’s likely that Love suffered a Type 2 variety.

The overall recovery time for this type of surgery is roughly six months. The first stage of recovery is immobilization to allow the tendon to begin healing to the bone for about two weeks. During this time, rehab is focused on pain management and swelling. Surrounding musculature such as wrist, hand, and surrounding musculature in the shoulder are addressed to prevent atrophy.

Over the next two to six weeks, range of motion to the shoulder is introduced. This is slowly increased, taking caution not to actively move the muscle and over-stress the healing tissue. Once six weeks hits, then strengthening can occur with isometrics, which is where the muscle is tensed up but no actual movement occurs. This is then progressed to isotonic exercises, which are regular exercises with weight including progressive loads introduced in a variety of planes. Dynamic stability and throwing exercises may also begin such as BodyBlade Flexbar and chest passes, respectively.

This is all slowly advanced until about three to four months out from the surgery date at which time regular strengthening can really begin such as bench press and sporting activities. The key components are to not overstretch the area or overwork the muscle as it heals. Like many other injuries, these take time and nothing can really speed up the process. The tendon has to securely heal to the bone and ensure that it can anchor properly for maximal function. Once the six-month mark occurs, he should be cleared for all activities, then the work to get back into football shape can really commence.

Overall, Love should have a full recovery. These types of injuries don’t happen as often as some of the lower body injuries but, anecdotally, those that have suffered these injuries have been able to return to play without further complications. Most recently, former Bills defensive end Sam Acho, a late training-camp addition, suffered this exact injury last season with the Chicago Bears but was able to return to play this year in the preseason. Fortunately, Love is young enough and is getting excellent care from the Bills’ medical staff.

He was thought to be a player on the bubble entering the regular season and while he probably would have made the team, this may be the best for his career. He gets top-notch care, he continues to learn and act as a professional, and saves his body in order to attempt to make the team next year. Barring injuries, he will have Jerry Hughes, Trent Murphy, and possibly Shaq Lawson ahead of him again. There is also Darryl Johnson but Love has an excellent chance to make the roster next year as part of a rotation or he could move into Lawson’s spot if the team elects not to bring him back.

While he does miss this season, it’s best that the injury happened now so he can be ready for OTAs and minicamp rather than losing time rehabbing and trying to rush back. Love may have had a setback, but he’s primed for the potential to take the next step in his career in 2020.

Thank you to our fellow Rumblings family member podcast Circling The Wagons for setting up and performing this interview. If you haven’t already, give them a follow on our Buffalo Rumblings podcast station. Make sure to listen to them and all the other great shows here at Buffalo Rumblings!

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