The news that Jose Iglesias was diagnosed with stress fractures in both legs hit the Tigers fanbase like a swift kick to the... well, shins. Iglesias dealt with shin splints for most of the 2013 season, but was presumed healthy heading into Spring Training in 2014. It did not take long for his shin issues to return, however. Iglesias only played in one Grapefruit League game before succumbing to his injury again.
Last week, I touched on how Iglesias' shin issues would affect him going forward. Unfortunately, this portion of my post was a bit too prophetic:
The pain that results from medial tibial stress syndrome can be anywhere from mildly debilitating to wildly excruciating. The specific activity that caused the injury -- running, most often -- is typically the most painful, and should be avoided to give the body time to heal. Continuing to run and "play through the pain" can lead to increased inflammation and possibly the formation of stress fractures within the tibia bone.
As we have seen, the worst case scenario -- save for a rare infection attacking his shins requiring immediate amputation -- has occurred. What does this mean for Iglesias and the Tigers going forward? The quick answer: it depends.
The long answer is exactly that; stress fractures heal with rest, but healing times can vary depending on a number of factors. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons suggests a six-to-eight week healing time for the fractures themselves, with additional rehab to follow. Given Iglesias' history and high level of expected performance, the team should ideally shoot for a longer rest time with a conservative rehab stint in order to prevent another recurrence of the same problem.
One essential component of Iglesias' rehab phase will have to be a correction of the cause of his shin splints. The exact cause is anyone's guess -- it could be anything from his typical running form to the sand-running regimen he followed prior to the 2013 season -- but a failure to recognize the underlying problem could result in another go-round of this charade next year.
The unpredictable nature of tissue healing times makes a return to action hard to predict, but I would not expect to see Iglesias in a Tigers uniform until the All-Star Break or later. The Tigers will look to protect Iglesias' long-term health at every stage of this process, including a slow and steady return to everyday action during a minor league rehab assignment.