Will Aaron Rodgers return this year?

December 4, 2023

According to published sources, New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers, 39, recently returned to the practice field just 11 weeks after undergoing Achilles tendon repair surgery, which is typically thought to be a season-ending injury.

Here is what Dr. Simon Lee, foot and ankle section head at Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH, has to say about Rodgers’ surgery and return to play potential:

1. His attempt to return to play is unprecedented.

There is not a single patient, let alone a professional athlete out there, who has pushed the rehabilitation time frame for a surgically repaired Achilles tendon this aggressively. There are multiple published papers evaluating professional athletes with data analytics from all the major sports, before and after an Achilles tendon injury, and the numbers are not good. Depending on the sport, it is exceedingly rare for an athlete to return to their pre-injury level. 

Orthopedic surgeons will be looking at Aaron Rodgers’ case for years after it is all said and done. We will be dissecting the surgical technique, the rehabilitation, and his actual statistical recovery. 

2. The other thing to remember is that this is only a conversation due to the position that he plays.

There is no other position in football, let alone in professional sports, that I can think of where an athlete could consider returning this early. Other positions require significantly greater full-body movement, meaning explosive, fast, twitch bursts of acceleration. Think of a running back, receiver, or cornerback for example. That type of positional player would not be able to return based on the critical things they need to do to play their position.

A quarterback can be relatively protected with increased protection with blockers, quick throws, and plays that do not expose him to unnecessary contact and they generally do not have to move on the field as much. During practice, he has that red jersey on protecting him.  Ultimately on the competition field, he does not have that same status, and the opposing team is trying to affect his performance. You are also talking about one of the few sports where violent collision and contact are a major component of the game.

3. A re-rupture will result in a dismal prognosis for him.

No one can predict or protect someone from suffering an Achilles tendon rupture, but after a surgical repair, the phases of rehabilitation are fairly simple. Biologically we know that it takes the human body about six to eight weeks to heal a tendon-tendon or bone-tendon injury. There are obviously advanced techniques and technology to assist that he is probably receiving. There is a certain level of rehab and training with strengthening, endurance, and muscle memory that also needs to be re-established. As a veteran with many pre-seasons and training camps behind him, that timeline is probably shortened. 

However, the highest risk of re-rupture is typically within the first three months with the risk diminishing with each additional week. In my experience, re-ruptures will occur with sudden quick movements and loading similar to what happens during the original rupture. Something that can't otherwise be replicated in physical therapy or practice is a live game situation. 

If a re-rupture occurred, all the same things said when he originally ruptured will be repeated but magnified. However, the data shows individuals who never fully recovered to give their bodies time to get closer to 100%, to begin with, do terribly after a second Achilles tendon surgery. There is no debate about this from any orthopedic surgeon. 

Either way, a professional athlete with an HOF career has probably been motivated at some point in their career by individuals who have doubted their physical ability. Those are the intangibles that make them great. So ultimately, it is up to Aaron Rodgers to consider the risk versus reward aspect of returning to play this season.