In 1997, Dr. Walter Lowe performed knee surgery on Brian Jones. It was a success.
Seventeen years later, Lowe – the team doctor for the Texans and Rockets – dropped by The MoJo Show to discuss a familiar NFL topic: injuries. Specifically, the injury suffered by Tony Romo in Dallas’ overtime loss to Washington on Monday Night Football.
There are those who feel that Romo, who injured his back and had to leave the game, shouldn’t have been allowed to return. As Lowe explained, however, whether or not an athlete returns is really a case-by-case decision.
“I don’t think Romo had a concussion, which was a good thing,” said Lowe, who is also chairman and professor of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. “But the concussion thing has gotten pretty straightforward in the NFL, and I actually think it’s been a very good step. The mandatory evaluations and the steps you go through to clear a guy are pretty cut and dry right now. We have the independent neurosurgeons on the sidelines with us. They’ve been a big help.
“The wild card is really the players,” Lowe continued, “and reporting whether there are concussion symptoms. I think there’s reason they want to and reasons they don’t want to. And so that really probably remains the weak link in making the right decision every time – just knowing that you need to take a look.”
What occurs on the sideline and in the locker room, though, is complicated. Sometimes a doctor has the final say; sometimes a player has the final say – depending on the severity of he injury, that is.
“It’s all over the board,” Lowe said. “There are things that are absolutes. ‘There’s no way you’re going back, and it doesn’t matter what you say.’ And there are things that we feel very comfortable clearing guys for just from a physical-exam standpoint. Those are about all the tools we have other than video playback to watch their injuries.”
There’s also obviously a big difference between a minor ankle sprain and a possible concussion.
“I think it’s our job to stop them when it’s dangerous, and I think it’s our job to allow them to (return) when we’re comfortable that they’re not putting themselves at additional risk,” Lowe said. “Most guys want to go back and most guys will give it the old college try to talk you into going back into the game, and I think you got to make the decision: Is this dangerous to him or not? And then if they want to, we’ll allow them to – as long as we’re comfortable with it.”