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Top 5 injuries in Wild History #5

Tom Pennington

The top 5 injuries in Wild history (in my ever so humble opinion) starts now. The criteria for this list was either a surprising or shocking injury, one that missed a significant amount of time or both.

So without further ado, I’ll present the 5th most surprising injury, James Sheppard’s fractured patella.

This injury was surprising news for Wild fans in that it occurred before that season began. After all, we don’t employ Sami Salo. Sheppard was attending a high altitude training in Vail Colorado where he took part in an ATV tour. During the tour, he swerved to avoid a truck, and hit his knee, fracturing the kneecap. This will be only article without video of the incident as none exists to my knowledge, and I couldn’t persuade anyone to reenact the incident. I asked around.

Sheppard had surgery on his knee and was eventually suspended by the Wild after he failed his training camp physical. He would eventually be traded to the San Jose Sharks after missing the 2010-2011 season. There he would miss the majority of the 2011-2012 season, eventually appearing in 4 games for the Worcester Sharks of the AHL on a conditioning stint. He was never recalled to the San Jose Sharks as they feared losing him on re-entry waivers.

So what exactly happened to Sheppard’s knee? First, a little anatomy lesson: the kneecap or patella is the bone located at the front of the knee, protecting the tendons that join the femur and the tibia. There are 4 types of patellar fractures: stable, displaced, comminuted, and open. Little information exists on the type of fracture Sheppard suffered, but based on the fact that he had surgery, it was likely not a stable fracture. Also, based on the fact that this was an impact injury, it was most likely not an open fracture. This leaves displaced or comminuted fracture as the possibilities.

A displaced (transverse) fracture is where the kneecap breaks into two pieces, and the pieces don’t line up with each other. A comminuted fracture is where the bone breaks into three or more pieces. Knee fractures are often caused by a blow to the knee, as in motor vehicle accidents, like when you swerve your ATV to avoid a truck and hit your knee. Symptoms include bruising, pain and swelling in the knee, inability to straighten the knee and inability to walk. All fairly obvious signs that something might be wrong with your knee. X-rays are used to determine the type and extent of the fracture.

Surgery depends on the type of fracture. As I don’t know what type of fracture Sheppard suffered, I will look at surgical interventions for both transverse (displaced) fractures and comminuted fractures. For a transverse displaced fracture, they are most often surgically repaired using pins, wires and a figure eight tension band which presses the pieces together. This is best for treating fractures near the center of the patella. Another surgical method is to use screws, wires and pins which need removal after a year or two.

For comminuted fractures, the kneecap is broken into three or more pieces. Bone fragments too small to be fixed are removed. The tendon is attached to the remaining bone. Screws and wires may also be used.

Rehabilitation can be lengthy and involve exercises to strengthen the leg muscles and restore range of motion. For Sheppard, this included a machine which moved his leg and work on an underwater treadmill before he was able to resume skating.

Patellar fractures lead to lifelong problems such as arthritis, muscle weakness and chronic pain which Sheppard will have to learn to manage.

Where is James Sheppard now? He is currently playing for the Worcester Sharks, the San Jose Sharks AHL affiliate. He has scored one goal and 2 assists in 4 games and is a +/- -1 with 4 PIM.

Tune in next week to learn about number 4.