Report: Steelers LB Sean Spence Suffered Peroneal Nerve Damage

On Thursday, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert updated the status of linebacker Sean Spence, the teams third-round draft pick from last April, who suffered a serious knee injury last preseason. During his update Colbert said Spence is doing everything that the doctors and trainers are telling him to do but that there is still no timetable for his return. Colbert said that fingers are crossed that he can return, but added that an injury of that significance heals at a different pace for different people.

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Saturday that Spence did damage to the peroneal nerve behind the knee when he tore his ACL and multiple ligaments nearly six months ago.

So what exactly is the peroneal nerve? It is the nerve is that is located on the outside part of the lower knee and it is responsible for transmitting impulses to and from the leg, foot, and toes. When the peroneal nerve is damaged, the muscles may become weak and condition called foot drop, which is the inability to raise the foot upwards, can occur.

Many of you might be old enough to remember former NFL running back Robert Edwards, who was originally drafted by the New England Patriots in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft. Edwards made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season, but severely injured his knee during a 4-on-4 beach flag-football game while in Hawaii.

Edwards tore his ACL, MCL and PCL, and partially tore his LCL. If that wasn\’t bad enough, he also stretched his peroneal nerve and severed an artery that supplies blood to the lower leg. He almost lost the leg as a result of his injuries. At that time there were quite a few people, including his own doctors, that thought his football career was over.

Edwards started his rehabilitation after his second surgery, but he couldn\’t pick up his foot or turn his ankle for several weeks because of the nerve damage that he had suffered. He stated in an interview that it was eight months before feeling returned in his foot.

It took a lot of hard work and rehab but Edwards managed to return to the football field in 2002 with the Miami Dolphins. That, however, would be his final year in the NFL, but he did go on to play three seasons in the CFL before retiring.

More recently, Philadelphia Eagles punter Matt McBriar overcame a foot drop condition after having surgery to remove a cyst that was found in his left leg. The cyst was reportedly the cause of his foot drop condition, however.

This certainly isn\’t something that you want to hear about happening to Spence, or anyone else for that matter. As it looks right now, he is almost certain to miss the entire offseason program and it would be surprising if he is ready by the time training camp rolls around. You would also have to think that there is an outside chance that he will never play again. Even if he does, will he be the same player?

Veteran linebacker Larry Foote, an unrestricted free agent, is expected to be re-signed this offseason and the Steelers will almost certainly address the inside linebacker position at some point during the draft or free agency.

As far as Spence goes, like Colbert said, keep your fingers crossed.

  • Christopher Wilkes

    Wow, that sounds bad.

  • walter mason

    Hang in there Sean. Prayers to you.

  • NW86

    Wow, you hate to read about that – for the Steelers but mostly for the kid. Hopefully the nerve damage wasn’t too severe and he can get back on the field in 2013. It sounds like he’ll be going into camp on the PUP list though.

  • Man does that suck. It sucks for Steeler fans. It sucks for Sean Spence. Hell, it just suck. He was a monster in camp last year. Hoping for the best, but scared it will be the worst.

  • Hey Jim DeSantis, thanks for the forwarded info on this brother! DAMN this sounds pretty bad for his career. He was a BEAST!

  • SteelerDave

    Always liked him in camp last year and his college tapes. I cross my fingers he can somehow overcome his injuries not just for our team but for him personally. I once played semi-pro volleyball until my own peroneal nerve and knee ligament injuries from an auto accident. It does take about one year to eighteen months to recover and even then you are never the same. I hope he is the exception.

  • mokhkw

    Unfortunately I can share some 1st hand experience with this. Long story short; broke right ankle while playing, drove before I should have & had another accident when someone pulled out in front of me at 70mph. Damage to Sciatic Notch/Nerve (amongst other things) lead to swelling of the peroneal nerve because of the pressure placed on it by the swollen sciatic .

    When the peroneal nerve swells, it’s akin to getting a cramp on the outside of your shin. It can easily be mistaken for shin splints and while it’s bad enough when exercising, the real fun is when you stop and the cramps & seizures set in. If it swells bad enough, your foot seizes in the “drop-foot” position and the only way to alleviate this is by (somehow) standing up (fun when it’s both legs at once) and putting pressure on your foot until it straightens itself.

    Not many people realize that nerves can be bruised and swollen just like muscles can. Getting swelling down on a nerve is much harder than say a thigh bruise, which is external and has room to swell out and disipate. Usually that’s not what happens for nerves which is why the recovery is different for everybody. It can take months, a year, even years before it’s 100% again & in a lot of cases, it never is 100% again. A swollen nerves will also get shorter as it contracts and swells.

    Before the ankle injury/accident I was 27 and usually clocked a 40 in 4.8-4.9 range, I played DE and TE. After the accident & a year off to recover, I never broke 5 seconds again & moved to OL. 5.05 was the best I could do. I’m 6’5″ and could dunk a BBall since I was 11, after the accident I couldn’t even touch the rim until years later. Basically, I was never the same again.

    I remember Robert Edwards from the Pats & if memory serves me correctly, he moved to FB when he made a comeback. While it was a great effort to see him back on the field, anyone who saw him pre and post injury could tell he was not the same player.

    I wish Sean Spence all the best in his rehab but with having experienced this myself I’m very doubtful that he can make a full recovery. Sadly, I’m inclined to write him off as never being able to play for the Steelers again while still holding out a slight hope that he can beat the odds. No doubt he has better medical care available than I did & while there are surgeries available they have to shorten the nerve when they remove the damaged area & in some cases, use part of another nerve if the damage is too much – this usually means both legs have to be operated on so they can harvest spare parts from the good leg.

    It’s a lousy situation for this kid to be in & I wish him the best. I hope he proves me wrong but I put the chances of him playing in 2013 at zero.

  • steeltown

    Definitely a terrible situation. I dont put anything past these athletes and the rahab specialists and trainers, so I’ll still reserve judgement on his return, but at this point, regardless, its time to move on.. resign Foote for ONE more season and draft an ILB