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Healthy Hood mounts comeback for job in Panthers’ backfield
Running back returns from ACL surgery
 
Published Sunday, July 14, 2019 11:00 am
by Ashley Mahoney | The Charlotte Post

PHOTO | CAROLINA PANTHERS
Carolina Panthers running back Elijah Hood, a Charlotte Catholic graduate, is returning after surgery on a torn ACL sidelined him for the entire 2018 season.

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Torn ACLs have evolved from career ending to recovery and return in the NFL.


Carolina Panthers running back Elijah Hood joined the club last August when he injured his left knee in the preseason finale in Pittsburgh.


“It was the first play of the game,” Hood said. “I was just running down the field. I was in the middle of a plant. I was cutting to my right, I think. When I was cutting off of my left foot to go right, somebody hit me from the right side, so everything that I was forcing right got pushed back left, with his weight. It felt like my leg hyperextended, but it was more than that. It felt like a real tense pop. I kind of fell down, and I thought my leg was hurting. I tried to get up, and then my knee buckled in. I was like, ‘OK.’ I knew something was really bad then. You just lay down. They get you on the cart and all of that.”


While the initial assessment in Pittsburgh was not definitive, an MRI in Charlotte determined he tore his ACL.


“I also had a pretty bad MCL sprain with it,” Hood said. “That’s what was really starting to swell up my knee. They couldn’t do surgery right away because there was so much swelling.”


Hood waited a month for his MCL to heal before reconstructive surgery.


“Basically, the month of September I was trying to heal my MCL,” Hood said. “Trying to keep my leg [muscles] from atrophying. I really couldn’t do much with a busted knee. We were just doing a bunch of leg raises and little leg pumps—whatever you could to keep your muscle.”
He underwent surgery occurred in October.


“That hurt a lot,” said Hood, who played high school ball at Charlotte Catholic. “After the surgery, the first couple days are really bad. They hurt, really, really bad. That’s all I can say about that. Probably the most pain I’ve ever felt.”


Prehab and rehab mirrored each other. Then the work began.


“It’s very slow, very deliberate,” Hood said. “First you’ve got to learn how to stand again. Then walk again, and lightly jog/walk, and then you can jog, then you can run and jump. Jumping and running is definitely closer to the end. I didn’t do that until month six. These two months, I’ve been getting my body adjusted, doing everything, change of direction, stuff like that. That’s when I started getting the knee brace. It’s been a long process.”


Former Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who underwent three reconstruction surgeries on the same knee, and Hood talked about coming back from an ACL injury.


“He was one of the first guys I talked to, because I just knew he had [multiple] ACL surgeries,” Hood said. “A lot of guys have had ACL surgeries on the team. It’s not like it’s an injury that affects one position group—everyone gets hit with one every once in a while. They’re all showing me the same little scar that I’ve got now, [saying] ‘I had one in college, or this many years ago,’ and they’re still hanging around. It just gave me a lot of encouragement and let me know it’s not as big of a deal nowadays as it was back then. If you work hard, you can come back from it.”


Players like Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers suffered torn ligaments during the Jurassic period of sports medicine, injuring one knee in 1968 and the other in 1970, which subsequently ending his career after seven years. Although he was effectively limited to four seasons, Sayers, one of the NFL’s greatest playmakers of any era, was a first-ballot inductee to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.


“You’ve heard of so many great careers back in the day that have been cut short, because of knee, hip, whatever injuries,” Hood said. “The technology they had available back then compared to today is night and day.”


Said Panthers coach Ron Rivera: “From way back when, a guy having surgery like that, it was going to be real tough to come back.  Now it’s a matter of once the leg is strong again, once he has the confidence in it and he’s gone through the rehab program, he’s ready to roll. …We’ve increased [Hood’s] workload, and you see some things that tell you he’s getting back in the right direction. Once we get to training camp, it’ll be exciting to see who exactly is ready to roll.”


Technological improvements have changed the way surgeons repair ACL injuries to allow players like Hood to return.


“My favorite procedure to do is ACL reconstructions,” said Novant Health’s Dr. Larry Martin, who specializes in orthopedic sports medicine but wasn’t involved in Hood’s treatment. “The biggest evolution over the last 30 years is a number of things. We understand the anatomy a lot better. We understand where the ACL needs to be put to be reconstructed. We have tools and orthoscopic equipment that allows us to make minimally invasive incisions to perform these precise techniques to really help with the rehab and decrease pain and swelling after the surgery. Another big portion is the actual rehab. We understand now what we can and can’t do early after surgery to optimize rehab so that when you do start stressing the graft or the reconstruction, you’re not trying to rehab everything at once. They used to put patients in casts afterward, and make them non-weight bearing. Now we put you in a brace, and want you moving it that evening, and putting weight on it as soon as possible.”


The rehab process is ongoing for Hood. However, he’s encouraged by his progress in minicamp.


“Minicamp went well for me,” said Hood, who was a seventh-round draft pick by Oakland in 2017. “Finally was about to start working back into doing the full team activities. It’s just getting back up to game speed, getting the reps in—it’s the same offense as before, so that helps a lot with just knowing what’s going on, and what to expect. I’m just getting back up to speed with the NFL level of the game. I’m a lot more comfortable with this offense compared to last year. I think I should be able to perform really well, come training camp.”


After last season on injured reserve for the Panthers, it’s about making the 53-man roster and playing in an NFL game that counts.


“It’s a lot less of learning what to do, and more refining how you’re doing it, which is a lot better than trying to figure out, ‘alright, where do I lineup? What is this? What is that? What does all this mean?’” he said. “It’s more, ‘what did you see here and how do you react to the situation?’ It’s basically taking that next step in your game.”

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