"You just don't see tibial stress fractures very often in a football player," Brown said.
In Carter's case, pain following the spring A-Day game alerted the doctors to the problem. "It was in his right leg, a little below halfway down," Brown said. "It showed up on X-ray.
"It had to be rodded, there was no doubt about that."
Unlike the better recognized full-fledged broken bone, stress fractures are more difficult to diagnose. "They develop over time," Brown explained. "Most people don't realize it, but the bone is actually subject to bending stress. The bone is not just rigid. It does bend."
If they're lucky, the doctors are able to diagnose the problem before a fracture actually develops. But very often football players conditioned to play with pain don't report the problem right away. "AC had leg pain for a little while and didn't say anything," Brown said. "A stress fracture starts as chronic leg pain.
"Of course Evan Mathis had one the whole season and didn't say anything until January. Evan's was on his left leg, about same spot as AC's."
As Brown noted, Mathis has actually endured his injury since before the beginning of last season. He first injured his leg before the UCLA game but chose not to report the problem for fear that treatment would jeopardize his spot in the playing rotation. Because of that, the big lineman has played with significant pain for almost a year. So Mathis was more than ready for surgery when it was scheduled following spring practice.
"The surgery is actually like driving a railroad spike," Brown related. "The doctors will just leave the rod in."
Once the rod is inserted, the affected area is completely stabilized, allowing the healing to begin immediately. "Dr. Fowler did Kenny Walker's (center/forward on the Alabama basketball team) surgery two years ago," Brown said. "And he came back to play in a month. It sounds like a big surgery, which in a way it is. But it's not like you've got a big, open incision and you've got to cut through a lot of soft tissue."
Brown explained what actually takes place. "They make an incision, drill a hole in the bone, then insert a guide rod. Then they ream out the bone like a roto-rooter deal. They then insert the rod and close it up."
Unlike some orthopedic procedures where it's necessary to go back in later to remove plates and/or screws, the rod will stay in. "Once it's in there, it's in there," Brown said.
Since the procedure ‘fixes' the stress fracture, preventing any movement in the area at all, recovery is rapid. "Most of the pain is where they made the incision to drill the hole in the bone," Brown said. "After that goes away and the incision heals up, (the athletes) are fine."
Given the fact that both Carter and Mathis were slow in reporting the injury in order to continue playing football, both players are vitally interested in how long their rehabilitation will take. "It's a four to six week rehab," Brown said. "Barring anything unforseen, we expect AC and Evan to be back fully participating June 3rd in the summer conditioning program."