J.J. Watt Won’t be the Same Player Moving Forward

by Eric Petty
Jul 25, 2016

Is it unwise to expect  J.J. Watt to continue being a game-changing pass rusher?

Is it unwise to expect J.J. Watt to continue being a game-changing pass rusher?

I hope there are not still fantasy owners who believe in the Houston Texans’ defense as some did about a year ago. If there were, I would assume that this J.J. Watt surgery is enough to scare you off.

If you need a little more push, I am your man. I do not think Watt will ever be the same player!

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Now that may seem like a bold statement, but when you think of how dominant Watt has been over the past few years, it’s really a no-brainer. I have always been horrified of core injuries to athletes, and with the case of Watt and his reported surgery for a herniated disc, my horror is multiplied.

I usually give my patients the hamburger analogy when it comes to herniated disc injuries. The disc is the burger and the vertebrae are the hamburger buns. When the disc is herniated, it is like when you try to take a bite from a burger and it slips out the back.

With a burger, there is nothing in back to damage, but with a herniated disc, the disc smashes into the nerves that control the legs. Just like the burger example, the disc is more likely to slip out the back when the buns are squeezed together in the front. With the body, this action occurs during trunk flexion or bending over. This spells big trouble for J.J. Watt or any other lineman who ends up with a herniated disc, as the position requires constant trunk bending.

To compound the matter, the trunk bending is usually combined with exertion and traumatic impact. If we return to our burger analogy, this would be like you squeezing your burger to take a bite and as the burger is protruding out the back someone decides to push you in the chest or run into you from the side.

This spells big trouble for Watt or any other lineman who ends up with a herniated disc, as the position requires constant trunk bending. To compound the matter, the trunk bending is usually combined with exertion and traumatic impact. Chances are your entire burger comes out and you make a mess. For Watt, the situation may not be much different.

Without a surgical report it is impossible to know the exact procedure that Watt endured, but after rehabilitating hundreds of these types of injuries I understand each option and the prognosis that comes with it. If Watt was a normal citizen who was returning to a normal job, his prognosis would likely be great; but his job requires him to do the exact things we want to avoid after disc herniation. My guess is that his surgeon removed the part of the disc that was bulging with some type of partial discectomy procedure and Watt will need to allow the rest of that disc and the many structures that are responsible for holding the disc in place to heal before returning to contact.

The problem is that these structures have shown themselves to be the weak links of Watt’s body. Watt could consider some type of bracing that helps protect this area, but this option steals a little of his flexibility and likely some of his productivity. Without the extra protection, my guess is that with enough repetition or enough force, some of Watt’s symptoms will return.

Generally, a herniated disc will start as pain in the back where the herniation occurs and then progress to radiating pain that goes through the legs and will sometimes causes pain, numbness and tingling; with serious progression could lead to instability. Any of these symptoms will have to slow Watt down at least a little from his recent superhero status.

I am not saying that a herniated disc is an issue that can not be resolved, but I am saying that by nature it is a chronic condition that is difficult to deal with for people like truck drivers, construction workers and other manual workers. Many of my patients who have heavy-duty jobs typically have some type of recurrence, although many times we can manage this conservatively if they adhere to proper therapeutic exercise regimens and posture awareness. I expect Watt will be able to do the same but I do not think he will be able to use his body the same as he once did without consequences of recurrence.

Any hopes for the Houston Texans to be a dominant defense are done! I expect Watt to miss the first two to three games of the season, and I expect him to have his least productive season to date.

The IDP rankings should see Watt fall considerably; the Texans will have some big shoes to fill and the biggest fantasy effect for me is that I can start quarterbacks against the Texans without worrying that Watt will take their head off. Watt will continue to be a good to great player, but I think we will be looking for the next undisputed best defensive player in the league this year as Watt will relinquish that crown in 2016.

Dr. Eric Petty is a Physical Therapist who is taking his talents from the treatment room to help fantasy owners. You can find more of his work at his site, The Injury Report Doctor, and you can follow him @DrPettyIRD.

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