SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers are hoping the veteran anchor of their defensive line, Justin Smith, can return from a painful and strength-sapping triceps injury in time for the playoffs.
The team’s right defensive end, voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl on Wednesday, hasn’t played or practiced since leaving a Dec. 16 game against the New England Patriots early in the third quarter. It was revealed Thursday that Smith suffered a partial tear of his left triceps tendon, which attaches the triceps muscle to the elbow.
A team spokesman confirmed the injury and said the tear also caused a bone spur to detach in Smith’s elbow, which is why the 49ers have characterized it as an elbow injury.
Smith appeared to suffer the injury while fending off one of the Patriots’ offensive linemen. The play was innocuous, and it was similar in nature to the one that ended outside linebacker Parys Haralson’s season. Haralson suffered a complete tear of the triceps tendon during a preseason game against Denver.
The injury is rare in the general population, but a number of NFL players have dealt with it in recent years. Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis suffered a complete tear of his right triceps tendon on Oct. 14 during a win over the Cowboys. He had surgery, returned to practice Dec. 5, and still may play for the Ravens in the playoffs.
That’s the hope for Smith. He may need surgery in the offseason to remove the bone spur, but the 49ers believe he can rehabilitate his arm to the point where he is effective in the playoffs.