The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

NFL Update: Panthers’ Cam Newton Underestimated Ankle Surgery

Posted by on Wednesday, October 8th, 2014


Optimism is a positive attribute for athletes recovering from serious injury. Studies consistently show that looking at the brighter side of life reduces pain and recovery time. While it’s ideal to have an overall cheery disposition about enduring an injury, our New York sports medicine doctors want patients to think realistically about recovery as well. We go through great lengths to describe surgical procedures accurately and encourage goal-setting, so our patients know what to expect and how to stay on track during the recovery process. Charlotte Panthers’ Quarterback, Cam Newton, recently admitted that the offseason ankle surgery that has kept him out of play for the past few months was “bigger than he thought.”

cam newton
Here Cam Newton is pictured coming out of the tunnel in 2011, when he was named “Defensive Rookie of the Year” — and long before he injured his ankle. (Image Source:

Who Is Cam Newton & Why Does His Injury Matter?

As sports medicine doctors, the last thing we’d want to tell Ron Rivera is that his star QB is going to be out for the long haul following ankle surgery. For those of you who don’t know him, consider these impressive stats:

– He was the first overall pick by the Panthers in the 2011 NFL Draft.

– He is the only modern player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy, win a national championship, and be the 1st draft pick in the same year.

– He broke Peyton Manning’s record for passes in his first game (with 400 yards, compared to Manning’s 280).

– He also broke Otto Graham’s 61-year-old record for passing yards in his first year.

– He broke Steve Grogan’s 35-year-old record for running 14 touchdowns in a season.

– Last season, he led the team into the first round of the playoffs with a 12-4 record, and was selected to play in the Pro Bowl on Team Sanders.

When this type of player goes down, you don’t want to tell the coaching staff that he’ll be out for four to six months — missing training camp and the season openers — but you have to. At our New York sports medicine center, we make sure we explain precisely what will happen during a given procedure and prepare the patient for the recovery process. Whether it’s two weeks or four months, it’s never easy.

Cam Newton’s Ankle Surgery Was a Long Time Coming, but More Serious than Expected

Newton says the ankle has bothered him since his days at Auburn University. In 2013, he rolled his ankle in a game against the New Orleans Saints. It began acting up again after a San Francisco playoff game last season. When rest didn’t help, the team trainer and Newton decided to address it with surgery.

“We kind of teased about it a couple weeks ago, how the doctor kind of downplayed how the surgery was going to go. I just thought this was a surgery just to clean up the ligaments and what not,” Newton told the Charlotte Observer. “But after reading a lot of reports from you guys, hearing about so much of ligament repair and this major ankle surgery that may hold Cam Newton off for a couple months, that’s when I started scratching my head like, man, this may be bigger than I thought. And something I thought may have a cast on for a couple weeks end up to be a couple months.”

“I’m still in that mode where trying to realize that I’m still trying to recover from a major ankle surgery that was displayed to me originally as a regular little cleanup,” Newton added. “But I’m glad it happened. My ankle is getting back and feeling stronger than ever. And hopefully I will be able to display my running talents here soon.”

Meanwhile, the team athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion said in an email to the Observer that Newton was never told it would be a simple surgery and the timeline for his recovery from the start was four to six months.

While he is back sporadically, fans have noticed that Cam Newton hasn’t been himself this season — with nine sacks and a seven-game rushing touchdown drought.

What Happens during Ankle Surgery?

Ankle sprains cause the ligaments of the ankle to overstretch, causing microscopic tearing with a Grade 1, partial tearing with a Grade 2, and complete rupture with a Grade 3 sprain. However, we find it’s often the low-grade sprains that end up costing players the most. Since it doesn’t hurt as much or as long, players tend to rush their recovery. Recurrent sprains prevent complete healing, and before they know it, the accumulated scar tissue and chronically weak ligaments pose a real threat to their careers. Ligaments stabilize the ankle, allowing the athlete to plant a foot and cut in opposing directions as needed. Without 100% ankle ligament stability, it becomes easier for the ankle to give way and “roll.”

ankle repair
This diagram shows many of the ligaments Cam Newton likely had repaired. (Image Source:


Newton is wise to consider surgery to clean out the scar tissue, trim the lateral ligaments at the overstretched portions, and tie up loose ends extra-thick with a very strong suture. Sometimes state-of-the-art sports medicine doctors (like us!) can use platelet-rich plasma injections to prompt more efficient circulation and healing in the area. With athletes, our physical therapists typically recommend active recovery to protect range-of-motion and skill. Recovery involves repetitive motion exercises, as well as strength and agility training. The workouts must be painstakingly gradual to avoid risking re-injury. “Part of the whole rehab plan was always to have him on the field, once we got to training camp,” explained Coach Rivera. “You can’t make up for the type of turning and twisting that he’ll do as a quarterback. You can’t simulate it in a training room. So having him on the field is what we really needed.”

Surgical Ankle Repair in NYC

The prognosis for ankle surgery is good — especially if treated early. Here at The Center for Podiatric Care & Sports Medicine in New York City, we will show you how to ice and elevate during the first 72 hours to minimize the risk of scarring, inflammation, and greater injury. We will give you something to ease the pain, as well as an immobilization device — be it a cast or removable walking boot (more commonly the latter). Then our team of sports medicine doctors will oversee your physical therapy and active recovery. If surgery is needed, we have experienced surgeons in office who will help you regain strength and motion in your ankle again. Book your urgent appointment without delay.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.