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On Oct. 27, 2012, the sports world stopped for a moment in horror as South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore crumbled to the ground in an SEC matchup against Tennessee.
This traumatic incident showed what a catastrophic knee injury looks like. It makes you gasp, it stops games and it suddenly makes opponents seem like teammates.
For fans and other observers, it was horrific for a split second, but we all went back to our own lives almost immediately. However, Lattimore, the 2010 SEC Freshman of the Year and one of the nation's best collegiate prospects, suddenly found himself in a fight not only for his football career but for his physical independence.
It was already heroic that Lattimore had repaired and overcome an ACL tear that ended his 2011 season (see How to Tell If You Have an ACL Tear). But this latest injury tore all four of his knee's stabilizing ligaments: ACL, PCL, MCL and LCL (see The Athlete's Guide to the ACL). Few people would have the strength to come back again, but so far Lattimore has made good progress after surgery.
This is an injury with few models to follow.
During the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, then Miami Hurricane McGahee tore his ACL, PCL and MCL all at the same time. He underwent multiple surgeries, was selected in the 2003 Draft and played in every game during the 2004 season. Since then, he has played in at least 13 games each year, and he is still playing. This is definitely a hopeful story for Lattimore.
This high school quarterback suffered a similar injury, but his popliteal artery was severed as well. He subsequently lost his leg above the knee. Rainey's trial was not only to recover from the injury but to restore some level of normalcy to a life that was once defined by his talent as a football player. Now a senior, he is back playing QB with a prosthetic leg, and was recently featured on ESPN's E:60.
Multiple knee ligament injuries are not uncommon, but as these two stories illustrate, full return is possible.
A more significant injury is when it involves the lateral structures, like a knee dislocation. (Read STACK Science: How Knee Injuries Occur and How to Prevent Them.) When both the ACL and MCL ligaments are injured simultaneously, other structures may be damaged, including nerves, arteries, cartilage and other ligaments. Fractures may occur, depending on the direction of force. The amount of damage determines how quickly surgery can proceed, the number of surgeries required and the length of time needed before an athlete can return to independence or sport.
The good news for Lattimore, by all reports, is that he dislocated his knee but without fracture, vascular injury, or cartilage damage. After his recent surgery, information about the number of ligaments repaired was not released, but it was reported that the operation was successful and that his prognosis is good. Based on his athleticism and work ethic, I expect, thankfully, that we have not seen the last of Marcus Lattimore in a South Carolina Gamecock uniform. (See Returning to Sport after Knee Surgery.)