Carolina Panthers

Star Lotulelei’s stress reaction injury similar to MKG’s

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei might be able to play in the team’s final exhibitions after suffering a stress reaction early in his foot during training camp.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei might be able to play in the team’s final exhibitions after suffering a stress reaction early in his foot during training camp. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Athletes heal at different rates – especially when comparing a 320-pound football player to a 6-foot-7 basketball player.

But the timeline the Panthers laid out for defensive tackle Star Lotulelei’s recovery from a stress reaction in his right foot is nearly identical to the one followed by Charlotte Hornets small forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist last winter.

That shouldn’t be a surprise: Panthers doctor Robert Anderson, the renowned foot and ankle surgeon who performed Lotulelei’s foot procedure in January, also treated Kidd-Gilchrist’s stress reaction.

Head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion said the Panthers would take a cautious approach after Lotulelei experienced pain and came up limping Monday during the third training camp practice. Vermillion said Lotulelei would be re-evaluated in “a few weeks.”

Kidd-Gilchrist missed nearly a month last season after he felt a strange pain in his right foot during the Hornets’ west coast trip. After an MRI revealed a stress reaction, Kidd-Gilchrist took four weeks off before returning to action.

A similar recovery would allow Lotulelei to play in one of the Panthers’ final exhibitions.

Anderson was at Wofford on Monday when Lotulelei motioned for the training staff after a play in team drills midway through practice.

Lotulelei was carted to the locker room to be examined, and an hour later he was in a walking boot with a noticeable limp.

Dr. Bob Baravarian, a California foot and ankle specialist, said it’s not uncommon for athletes who have had surgery to repair broken bones in their foot to be treated for stress reactions, which are a swelling of the marrow inside the bone.

Stress reactions are a precursor to stress fractures, or cracks to the thick, outer shell of a bone. Rest is the best medicine.

“The goal is to try to let the bone have a chance to recover a bit longer because the stress reaction shows it’s not quite ready yet,” said Baravarian, a foot and ankle specialist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica.

Baravarian said inserting an insole in the player’s cleats can reduce the pressure on the affected area. But he pointed out offensive and defensive linemen are prone to such mid-foot injuries because of the nature of their positions.

“They’re pushing against another immovable object,” Baravarian said. “They’re usually on the balls of their feet, which puts stress on the area and it cracks.”

Lotulelei, the Panthers’ first-round pick in 2013, broke his foot in January during a practice before the divisional-round playoff loss at Seattle. He participated in organized team activities and minicamp during the spring without any apparent setbacks.

But he’ll be sidelined through the remainder of camp at a minimum. Baravarian believes the Panthers’ approach should have Lotulelei ready for the regular season.

“My best guess is he’s had surgery and his bone’s just not quite ready for the stress that’s being put on it immediately,” Baravarian said. “I think he should be able to play (in September).”

Panthers notes

HILL REVERTS TO IR: Wide receiver Stephen Hill, who sustained a season-ending knee injury Saturday, cleared waivers and has been placed on injured reserve. Hill, who tore his ACL after landing awkwardly while trying to pull down a pass, does not count against the Panthers’ 90-man roster limit.

The Panthers lost injured rookie running back Tyler Gaffney to New England last summer when they exposed him to waivers. The New England Patriots claimed Gaffney, Carolina’s sixth-round pick in 2014 who tore his meniscus on his first play of camp.

HOUSTON RETIRES: Just days after being part of one of the most exciting plays in this year’s Panthers’ training camp, veteran cornerback Chris Houston has opted to retire.

A nine-year veteran of the NFL, Houston, 30, sat out last season after toe surgery. He injured his toe again Saturday and sat out Sunday but returned to practice Monday. On Tuesday, the Panthers announced his decision to retire.

The Lions released Houston in 2014 after it became clear it’d take time for him to return from the injury. The Panthers added him in June as insurance for cornerback Charles Tillman, who has suffered triceps injuries each of the past two seasons.

Houston on Saturday was involved in a play that made nearly everyone at Wofford hold their breath. Receiver Ted Ginn Jr. hauled in a deep Cam Newton pass with Houston in coverage.

A white fence in the back of the endzone came up quickly on Ginn and Houston, and both men had to leap over the fence rather than running through it.

This is the second player to retire with the Panthers in the past two weeks. Offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, 25, declared his intention to retire, although the paperwork has yet to become official. Jonathan Jones

Joseph Person: 704-358-5123, @josephperson

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