In a stroke of incredibly unfortunate luck, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers fractured his right collarbone during the first quarter Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings after being tackled by linebacker Anthony Barr.

During the play, Rodgers attempted to brace his fall with an outstretched right arm and remained on the ground wincing in pain for a significant time before being escorted to the sideline injury tent and eventually the locker room. It was announced later in the game by Fox’s Erin Andrews and Jay Glazer that the Packers “feared” Rodgers had broken his collarbone but was still undergoing further testing.

Clavicle — commonly referred to as the collarbone — fractures are pretty common, straightforward injuries. Comprising 5 percent of all bone fractures, they are caused when an excessive force is applied to the lateral (outside) aspect of the shoulder, or less commonly, to an outstretched arm. These are known as FOOSH injuries in the athletic training/physical therapy realm, which is short for fall on outstretched hand.

This force results in the cortex of the bone giving way in one of three locations along its length, with the middle portion being fractured most frequently — occurring in roughly 80 percent of all clavicle fractures.

Visual inspection, palpation and radiographic imaging are typically all that is needed to diagnose a clavicle fracture. The “other tests” Rodgers was supposedly undergoing when it was first reported that the Packers “feared” a broken clavicle was nothing more than a hopeless diversion; they knew almost immediately that it was broken.

Once diagnosed, treatment can proceed in either one of two directions. The first is that it’s determined the clavicle will be able to heal simply with immobilization and, therefore, surgery is not needed. This would likely be a non-displaced fracture, meaning the bone only cracked. Patients are typically fitted with an arm sling to promote non-use of their injured extremity.

Otherwise, the bone was displaced — broken into two or more pieces — meaning surgical intervention is required. Unfortunately for Rodgers and the Packers faithful, it was reported Monday afternoon that surgery would be needed to repair his fractured right clavicle and that he would be out “for a minimum of a significant amount of time.”

There is a precedent for the timeline to return to play with Rodgers as he missed seven weeks during the 2013 season when he suffered a non-displaced fracture of his left clavicle. However, Rodgers’ current fracture differs in that it involves his throwing shoulder and surgery is needed — meaning displacement was likely — which makes determining when he may return to play a little more difficult.

Patients often experience stiffness as well as a loss of muscle mass and strength in their involved shoulder after surgery is performed. This is due to needing to keep the shoulder relatively immobilized to allow for proper healing, which may prolong their time on the sideline.

Physical rehabilitation is often needed to combat these surgical side effects. Therefore, it may take Rodgers some time to regain his arm strength and range of motion, which along with patient confidentiality and attempting to maintain a competitive edge is why his prognosis is so nebulous.

Athletes who do not require surgery to repair their broken clavicle often return to play within 6-to-8 weeks. However, the bone doesn’t return to full strength until months or possibly a year after the initial injury. During this time, the player is at an increased risk for re-fracturing. Athletes who do have to undergo surgery typically return anywhere between 6-to-12 weeks, though more often than not they fall closer to the back end of that range.

With 11 weeks remaining in the NFL schedule, it is truly a toss-up as to whether or not Rodgers will be able to return before the season ends. And even if he is ready to go in eight weeks or so, the Packers will have to determine if it is worth it.

Green Bay would likely have to go 4-3 — an overall record of 8-5 — over the next eight weeks in order to justify playing Rodgers if he is borderline or ready to go and it’s anyone’s guess as to how likely that is. Regardless, Rodgers’ injury opens wide the race for the NFC North title and the Wild Card spot, which can only be good news for the Minnesota Vikings.

Resources used for this article:

  1. Medscape: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/92429-overview#a7
  2. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00072

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