A risky “bracing” procedure looms as Matildas captain Sam Kerr’s only chance of playing at this year’s Olympic Games after she suffered a shocking knee injury during her club side Chelsea’s mid-season camp in Morocco.
Her national teammates were left “gutted” by the injury blow with Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson labelling the news “devastating” ahead of two crucial Olympic qualifiers in February.
Football Australia is yet to declare whether Kerr, who ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament, will miss the Paris Olympics – should the Matildas qualify – which start on July 26.
Should Kerr have immediate surgery, there is a slim chance she could return to action in six months and in time for the Paris Games.
However, physiotherapist and injury analyst Brien Seeney – who has a significant social media presence as @nrlphysio – said football players were usually sidelined for at least nine months after rupturing an ACL.
“We see in the NRL players came back in that six to ninth month range, but the difference here is that football is a 360 degree sport,” Seeney said.
“You can expect the action in football to happen anywhere in that 360 degree range, whereas in rugby league, the action’s usually happening in front of you, there’s just that little bit less demand on the knee and the ACL as a whole.”
Seeney said also working against Kerr was her gender and that she suffered a similar injury in 2011.
“Females have an increased risk, up to about eight times the risk of an ACL injury, compared to males,,” he said.
“(And) once you’ve suffered one ACL injury, your risk increases to suffer a second, and once you’ve suffered a second, the risk increases even more to suffer a third. It just keeps compounding.
“The fact that she’s just had a second ACL (rupture) would normally mean they’d be a bit more conservative with the rehab plan.”
Seeney said the “highest chance” of Kerr playing at the Olympics would be not to have surgery and instead attempt a “bracing” recovery.
However, he said a “lot of things would have to be right” and that if the bracing didn’t work. Kerr would facing a longer period on the sidelines.
“It would have to be a clean ACL injury, with minimal secondary damage,” Seeney said.
“If you put the knee in a brace for about 10 to 12 weeks, there’s some evidence that the ACL in the right circumstances can actually heal on its own.
“Then you go through your rehab, and we’ve seen athletes come back at around that four-to-five month mark, or up to six months … but there’s not a lot of solid evidence, particularly at the professional sport level.
“It would be hard for someone like Sam Kerr to take such a risk when they don’t know the percentage outcomes of what’s likely to happen, but she could potentially be the first.”
Kerr’s teammates took to social media to offer their skipper their support, with Steph Catley declaring she had “no words” while Caitlin Foord was “gutted”.
The Matildas play a two-legged Olympic qualifiers against Uzbekistan next month.
Coach Tony Gustavsson labelled Kerr’s absence an “incredible loss” for the Matildas.
“This news is a devastating blow for everyone,” Gustavsson said.
“With her ability to lead by example, Sam’s guidance and influence on the team is significant and, as a result, this will be an incredible loss for the national team.
“Our focus now is on ensuring she has all the support she wants and needs to navigate recovery and rehab.”
Kerr’s recovery and rehabilitation will be overseen by Chelsea’s medical staff.