SportsCare Physician Provides Insight on Jay Cutler Thumb Injury

Just when things were starting to look easy for the Chicago Bears, the team was hit with a little adversity on Sunday. After winning its fifth-straight game, the team announced that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a throwing-hand thumb injury that would require surgery. The recovery timetable is still unclear, according to the Bears’ front office.

Brett Wolters, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with the Orthopedic Group at Springfield Clinic and Memorial SportsCare, provided some insight into Cutler’s injury based on his professional experience in treating and repairing similar injuries.

Some fans may be wondering why Cutler will miss any time on the field at all. Other football players (usually on the offensive or defensive lines) have been known to play with a cast protecting a broken arm or hand. Why can’t Cutler do that? Is the thumb really that important?

To a quarterback, it certainly is. Dr. Wolters said it’s the most important digit for fine grasping skills, and that a working thumb is essential to accurately throw a football.

“The thumb is probably the most important digit as far as throwing goes,” he said. “If you can’t use the thumb, the ball is going to fall out of your hand. Each finger is important, but the thumb is the stabilizer.”

You may recall that Cutler did not finish last year’s NFC Championship Game against the Green Bay Packers. With this new thumb injury, it may be easy to re-label him as soft, but according to Dr. Wolters, this injury is not just about playing through pain. Cutler is physically unable to do his job until the thumb recovers from surgery.

“Cutler cannot play at this point. He needs that thumb to function as a quarterback,” he said. “What he needs to do now is let the bone heal, and he needs to be out of a cast in order to control the ball and throw it.”

Dr. Wolters said a typical return-to-play date is four to eight weeks after the surgery, depending on the exact nature of the injury. New details from Chicago revealed that Cutler broke one of the three bones that comprise the thumb. The scheduled surgery suggests the Bears’ QB might require a screw or a pin to properly realign the bone and hold it in place.

More realistically, the recovery timetable is anywhere from six to eight weeks, which means Cutler may have to miss one or more playoff games (provided the Bears get there without him). But for future-conscious Bears fans, Dr. Wolters says not to worry.

“The injury should not cause any long-term problems.”

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