Aaron Rodgers Diagnosed with Fractured Collarbone, Out a Month or More

Will CarrollSports Injuries Lead WriterNovember 5, 2013

The Green Bay Packers are going to want their doctors double-checking this one. Aaron Rodgers was driven into the turf early in Monday night's game, a move that we've seen too many times in the NFL.

Two Bears were atop him as he hit the ground. Indeed, if you watch, it might be the extra force of the second defender that caused the issue. You can see a bit of a "bounce" after hitting the ground, and his arm goes limp just after. 

ESPN's Adam Schefter indicated early that Rodgers has an incomplete and non-displaced fracture of his left clavicle. That kind of fracture would look more like this on X-ray than a more dramatic displaced fracture. Rodgers said on his radio show to ESPN Milwaukee's Jason Wilde that he had a fractured collarbone, but did not mention that he had any other associated damage. He specifically said there was no timetable. 

The key here is the "and." A fractured collarbone is one thing, but associated damage to the joints on either side would complicate things tremendously. A tweet from ESPN's Ed Werder indicated there was swelling in the area that made it difficult to diagnose on Monday night, necessitating the Tuesday imaging. Given that, the range could extend out significantly, but Rodgers did not indicate that there was anything beyond "waiting for the bone to heal."

The normal time range for a fractured collarbone is six to 10 weeks. However, if the fracture is in a "good" location and if there's no associated damage, it is possible for him (or anyone) to come back earlier.

The downside is that any quarterback faces the threat of having the exact same kind of hit happen on any play. Bones do not fully heal in three weeks, so Rodgers and the Packers would be taking some risk.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - OCTOBER 27: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers passes the ball during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on October 27, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Mi
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

There's just no way to protect the area. Rodgers could not play in any sort of sling or harness, even though it's his non-throwing arm. Just take a look at the picture to the right, and you'll see that Rodgers' throwing motion involves that arm being a counterbalance. That is very common, even necessary for the accuracy and repeatability that Rodgers has based his success on. 

If there is no other associated damage, Rodgers is very lucky. The collarbone (or clavicle) acts as a brace for the entire torso and at both ends it attaches with a system of ligaments. At the medial end, it attaches to the sternum. At the lateral end, it attaches to the shoulder complex with a series of structures at the acromioclavicular joint. Sprains to either side of the collarbone can be exceptionally painful and can heal slowly. 

One other less noted issue could be with the coracoclavicular ligament. This thin but strong ligament connects the clavicle to the coracoid process of the scapula (shoulder blade). If Rodgers has any issue with the scapula, it can throw off his throwing motion significantly. 

There are of course exceptions to any range. By definition, a range is a generality. While six to 10 weeks is a common range, one given by two doctors I spoke with late Monday, there are returns in shorter times and longer as well. New techniques, such as the flexible rod inserted in Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke's collarbone this spring, change the ranges themselves as they become common. 

Lions fans will remember Matthew Stafford laying on the turf grabbing his shoulder. Cowboys fans will remember the look of anguish after Tony Romo had a similar landing, which resulted in a fractured clavicle. The problem is that even with all the protections afforded to modern quarterbacks, which for Rodgers includes a solid offensive line and good mobility, they are still exposed to this kind of landing.

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 31:  Injured quarterback Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys walks off the field with his head down after the Cowboys lost 35-17 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Cowboys Stadium on October 31, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by St
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

At this stage, there is no indication that Rodgers will need surgery. This indicates that the fracture is stable and not displaced. A displaced fracture is one where the bone is not aligned correctly and has moved at the point of fracture. Without intervention—"setting the bone" as it used to be called—it would heal incorrectly. 

Rodgers' actions on Monday night confused some. He ran off the field and was not guarding the arm, as is common after a collarbone fracture.

By guarding, I mean that most people with this injury will pull the arm in and hug it to their body. The body does this naturally to prevent the collarbone from moving. Having broken my collarbone multiple times, I can tell you that it's painful. The body's instinct for stillness is strong.

Rodgers' jogging was just one confusing sign. When he returned to the field, he was not wearing a sling or the more common shoulder immobilizer. However, when you look at this link, it's clear that Rodgers was at the very least using the hoodie pocket as a sling and could have had something under the hoodie as well. 

Rodgers is definitely out for Week 10, and while the range is going to be a wide one, be wary of looking to exceptions, such as Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, who came back in just over a month. Marques Colston returned after missing just two games, but his function is very different from that of a QB. No two injuries are identical, nor are the rehabs or responses to treatments.

Rodgers shouldn't be completely shut down long, so he should not lose much arm strength, timing or cardio. Once the bone is stable, he'll be able to do some light throwing and other football work along with his rehab.

Those will be positives for a quick ramp-up. Rodgers noted on his radio show that he played previously with a separated shoulder and on a broken foot, but he said this would come down to pain tolerance and medical clearance.

In the meantime, the Packers will watch and wait, hoping that Seneca Wallace can keep them in the NFC North hunt over the course of the next few weeks. Packers fans will just have to watch and wait, while fantasy owners will be forced to double-check their lineups with one of the top QBs possibly out until the fantasy playoffs or beyond.