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Tua Tagovailoa suffers high ankle sprain, undergoes ‘tight rope’ surgery

Alabama will miss star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa next week, but could get him back after their bye when they face No. 2 LSU.

Tua Tagovailoa of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after a rushing touchdown by Brian Robinson Jr. in the first half against the Tennessee Volunteers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 19, 2019 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Alabama Crimson Tide will be without star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for at least one week due to a high ankle sprain. Tagovailoa suffered the injury Saturday against Tennessee. Head coach Nick Saban announced the diagnosis Sunday morning. He said the team doctors performed a “tight-rope” procedure on his right ankle. The injury is the same he suffered last season, but on the opposite ankle.

Sports Illustrated broke down the tightrope procedure earlier this year. It came into focus because it was discussed in the lead up to Alabama vs. Clemson in the national title game. It’s a surgical procedure, but a relatively limited one — at least as limited as one can be when cutting into the human body.

The tightrope is a relatively new innovation in the treatment of high ankle sprains, in which ligaments and tissues around the leg bones, the tibia and fibula, are loosened and become unstable. The tightrope offers an alternative to the traditional methods of treatment: rest and rehabilitation or the insertion of screws into the tibia and fibula, bonding them like one would a pair of two-by-fours with a nail. In tightrope fixation, surgeons slip a high-strength suture through small holes in the bone, fasten it with small metal buttons and then tighten it as you would a zip tie. The procedure takes about 25 minutes.

Tagovailoa suffered his high ankle sprain on December 1st in the SEC title game, and returned by December 29th in the national semifinal game. Alabama plays Arkansas next week, and then has a bye week before hosting No. 2 LSU on November 9th. It would be aggressive to get Tagovailoa back by that game, but Alabama could decide it’s worth it.