Injuries are a part of life in the NFL. Players will be the first to admit that, even at this early stage of the season, nobody feels 100 percent. They're banged up and their bodies are adjusting to the pounding that they take.
But Erin Henderson has spent the last two weeks trying to recover from post-concussion symptoms that have mystified him, his coaches and the team's medical staff. He has been cleared to take part in practice on a limited basis, but his timetable to return is still very much up in the air, which has been a source of frustration for Henderson, who said the recovery from a concussion is unlike any other sort of injury where progress in rehab is much more easily measured and quantifiable.
"It's a little bit different than anything I have to deal with in my life," Henderson said. "Typically when you're injured or you're dealing with things, you attack it. You try to get better. You try to do your rehab and do whatever it takes to get back on the field. But when you're dealing with something like this, it's just a completely different animal. The biggest thing is just to rest and take your time and try to come back when you feel you can be of help to the team – be an asset, not a liability."
Henderson didn't initially even realize he had a concussion. He can't pinpoint exactly which play in the Indianapolis game he sustained the injury and it took a couple days for symptoms to manifest themselves. He didn't know what was wrong, he just knew he didn't feel right.
"It was just a little uncomfortable for me," Henderson said. "It was a different feeling than what I've ever had to deal with or ever been through before. You kind of feel like you're not really yourself. So don't have the same ‘oomph' or that same pizzazz that you usually have. I recognized that. It was a tough game and it took something out of me. As time went on, I just didn't feel right."
Head coach Leslie Frazier said he is as mystified as Henderson. The protocol for post-concussion tests is quite strict, and until recently the medical staff informed Frazier that Henderson hadn't passes the required baseline tests. However, he said that the medical clearance to resume practice on a limited basis is a positive sign.
"They cleared him to the point where he can go through parts of our practice and we'll evaluate him again tomorrow after he's done with some of the things today," Frazier said Wednesday. "I'm not certain why it is taking this much time, but, as you know, you err on the side of caution when it comes to a head injury."
Henderson's uncertainty on the injury is troubling because he admitted he caught some flak from friends during contract negotiations during the offseason because he was looking toward his own future and realized that an NFL career can end in an instant and that the thought creeps into the back of your mind that something like this could happen and not get better.
"It's something that you always think about," Henderson said. "You always know that it's a possibility. You always know that there is a chance that any play could be one of the last snaps that you play. You never know when it's going to happen or how it's going to happen. It's a tough industry that we work in."
Asked if he thought he would be available to play Sunday, Henderson shrugged and said he simply doesn't know. Wednesday's practice will tell a lot – he was doing more work after practice – when he undergoes more tests Thursday to see if he had any setbacks. That is the crux of his frustration, because the NFL's sudden awareness of post-concussion problems years down the road has resulted in a cautious approach to dealing with players who show symptoms. Most injuries have specific timetables on them, but concussions are unique in their severity and from player to player, which makes recovery time a virtual unknown.
"It's tough," Henderson said. "It's not like a lot of other injuries you deal with. There's no timetable that you can set or you can make. It's just kind of a day-to-day basis and how you're feeling – how you're able to go about the day, if you're not having any issues. It's tough. In an ideal world, in a perfect situation, I would have been playing two weeks ago. I would never missed any time. I would have never missed any games. It's hard for me to tell you when I'm going to be able to get back out there and be where I want to be."
The uncertainty is the bad news. The good news is that Henderson's symptoms are showing signs of waning and he is confident that the improvement, even if small, incremental improvement, continues to present itself from one day to the next.
"I'm doing a lot better," he said. "Every day has been progressively better for me. We got a plan right now that we're sticking to and are going to continue to stick to and see how it plays out."
While Henderson and the coaching staff play the waiting game, Frazier said he believes that the progress he is making will get him back on the field soon. But will it be this Sunday against Tennessee?
"That's my hope," Frazier said. "I was hoping the same thing a week ago, so I'm hoping that he'll be able to practice tomorrow and (the medical staff) will clear him and say, ‘Hey, he can do everything.' The fact that it's to the point where he can participate some today, that's a good sign."
While his return remains a question mark, the saving grace of Henderson's injury is that the Vikings defense has played so well while he has been recuperating. While some might find it frustrating not to be on the field when the defense is hitting it's stride, Henderson is happy that it has allowed his concussion recovery to run its course and he hasn't felt pressured to return to quickly and potentially make a bad situation worse.
"I'm excited about getting back out there with the guys and having a chance to get back to playing," Henderson said. "I'm ecstatic for the way they went out and battled to get those two games with me out. It was huge for me. It helped me out a lot. It made it a little bit easier for me to deal with and to bear."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Concussion mystifies Vikings' Henderson
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