Closer Look at Aaron Rodgers’ Clavicle Fracture

Week 6 of the 2017 NFL season added another painful chapter to the venomous rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings.

Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers left the game in the 1st quarter with a fractured clavicle involving this right throwing shoulder following what Green Bay fans are calling an unnecessary hit by Viking LB Anthony Barr. Four days later Rodgers had surgery to repair his collarbone and the likelihood of his return to the Packers starting lineup this season is very much in question.

How Did THAT Fall Fracture his Collarbone?

Unlike his 2013 left clavicle fracture when Chicago Bears’ Shea McClellin used Rodgers as a human surfboard, last week’s injury didn’t look nearly as violent. With that being said, how could such a routine fall result in such a devastating injury for the two-time MVP?

The answer is simple: A high load was applied on a long crooked bone.

The clavicle, commonly referred to as the collarbone, is the only joint connecting the entire arm to the human torso via the sternum. The contoured shape of the clavicle makes it a perfect ‘guardrail’ to protect the dozens of nerves and blood vessels which pass under the collarbone on their way to the chest and arm.

Looking from above, the clavicle bone is “S” shaped. Therein lies the problem.

The other 44 long bones in the feet, legs, hands and arms are straight and solid. In contrary, the collarbone’s skinny and twisting structure makes it very vulnerable when suddenly forced to bear weight from the outside of the shoulder.

Lets all put on our Mechanical Engineer hats for a quick test to demonstrate the physics of a crooked bone.

  • Push your straightened index finger aggressively into your thigh muscle.
  • Now do the same aggressive press with your index finger slightly bent.

How much weaker was you bent finger? Your “S” shaped clavicle, much like your bent finger, is weaker and more prone to bending/breaking when a high load is applied at one end.

I’ve been asked at least 30 times: “Why didn’t Aaron’s shoulder pads protect his shoulder?” With lightweight QB pads, they provide very little protection against a hard impact to the side of the shoulder.

Factors Impacting the Need for Surgery

Three key factors are evaluated when considering a surgery for elite athletes:

  1. Location – Most clavicles break in the middle third of the bone. A fracture involving the AC joint laterally (outside) or the SC joint medially (inside) are much more concerning and typically merit surgery to protect the joint surfaces. A joint fracture is more likely to result in a stiff and painful joint. Aaron posted a picture on Instagram following his surgery.
  2. Fracture(s) instability – Unstable pieces of bone overlying important nerves and blood vessels are not a good thing when it comes to athletes playing contact sports. If a fracture site(s) is unstable and/or involves multiple bony fragments, a surgically implanted contoured plate is commonly used to pull the damaged bone together to promote proper healing.
  3. Recovery Time – If return-to-play time following a clavicle fracture is important, surgery is often the best option. Friendly reminder: Surgery does nothing to heal the bone.  The purpose of surgery is to position the bony fragments closer together to improve the body’s ability to fill-in the gaps between pieces with new bone.

Rodgers’ Road Back Lambeau

Return-to-Play Date – Hold on cowboy!  TBD.

Accelerated Healing – The Packers medical staff will utilize every healthy option necessary to optimize Rodger’s ability to heal quickly. Options include bone growth stimulators, physical therapy, supplements, hyperbaric oxygen, and good ol’ sleep.

Rotator Cuff Jump Start – When deemed safe by his surgeon, Packers’ team doctor and athletic trainers, Aaron will start exercising his vitally important right shoulder rotator cuff.

Return to Throwing – When X-Rays and MRI’s show enough healing has taken place, #12 will return to progressive throwing. After getting the “green light” to throw, he will slowly progress from slow motion “air throws” to tennis balls to footballs under the watchful eyes of the highly skilled Packers’ athletic trainers.

How Aggressive Will His Rehab Protocol Be? – The intensity of his rehab protocol is typically based on his surgical procedure, fracture healing rates and his daily symptoms.

In closing…

Aaron Rodgers has a great deal of work to do until we see #12 back on the game day gridiron. The good news for Packer Nation is a full recovery from this clavicle fracture is expected. The only remaining question is: “When?”

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