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Torn calf muscle keeps Polamalu on sidelines

| Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, 6:19 p.m.
Troy Polamalu suggested when the Steelers were 2-3 that the team lacked veteran leadership. After winning three in a row, no one is suggesting that now. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers strong saftey Troy Polamalu was reinjuried against the Eagles at Heinz Field Oct. 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Troy Polamalu won't play Sunday in Cincinnati. He probably won't play next week or the week after that, not with a torn calf muscle that has turned his right leg a hideous shade of purple and red.

But the reason he's hurting isn't just because of an injury that usually takes up to six weeks to heal. It's because the Steelers (2-3) need him badly after losing each of their first three road games, and he won't be out there Sunday night in Cincinnati to help a struggling defense.

“That's why they (NFL teams) pay the more talented players big money, to keep them on field,” Polamalu said Wednesday. “Obviously, you want your starters and your more experienced players out there.”

The best-case scenario for Polamalu's return, according to teammates, is the second half of the season. He wishes he could return last week.

“Sometimes I wonder if it's just us,” Polamalu said, referring to the Steelers' current abundance of injuries that includes their top two running backs and two starting offensive linemen. “It seems like we deal with it pretty seriously every year. I'm aware of Baltimore's situation (with Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis out), but it seems like we face those situations year in and year out.”

Polamalu included. The Bengals game will be the fourth he's missed this season and the 17th he's sat out over the last four seasons. It's frustrating to him, especially because he started every game at age 30 last season and made the All-Pro team.

Polamalu was hurt during the fourth quarter of the season-opening Denver game. He sat out two games and a bye week only to get hurt not long into the first quarter of the Eagles game Oct. 7.

A strained calf occurs when a muscle is forcibly strained beyond its limits, causing it to tear. Strains are graded at three levels, with the most severe requiring the most recovery time.

“Calf strains are in the muscle bellies, so they tend to heal on their own and take time,” said Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and the director of sports medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. “If you try to go back too soon, a sudden explosive (move) can stretch muscle fibers, and you start back at square one. Calf strains are a tough injury because everything you do in sports involves pushing off.”

Polamalu is certain he didn't come back too soon against the Eagles.

“I felt really good,” he said. “I felt as good as I have in a while.”

For now, Polamalu said, he is combating the nagging injury “with just the normal stuff — treatment, massage, stretching, strengthening, and all the different techniques.” But rest is most needed.

Geier said there isn't much that can be done to speed up the healing process.

A sprained left knee in 2009 and a strained right Achilles late in the 2010 may have indirectly contributed to his current injury.

“The body always compensates and it compensates from the ground up,” Polamalu said. “If the left toe hurts, it will compensate maybe to the right ankle or calf to the left knee to the right hip, all the way up your body. … That is basic sports physiology.”

This is basic Steelers-ology: They are a much, much better team when Polamalu plays.

And he is certain he will again, he just isn't sure when. He is not worried this injury might be season-ending or career-threatening.

“Not at all,” he said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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