Dramatic Week 15 Puts Aaron Rodgers' Collarbone, Medical Objectivity to the Test

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Dramatic Week 15 Puts Aaron Rodgers' Collarbone, Medical Objectivity to the Test
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Aaron Rodgers' broken collarbone was already dominating NFL headlines. Then Week 15 happened.

After their jaw-dropping, come-from-behind 37-36 victory over the Dallas Cowboys—followed by a Detroit Lions loss due to a game-winning, 61-yard field goal by Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker—the Green Bay Packers find themselves in sole possession of second place in the NFC North.

Wikimedia Commons.
The clavicle (collarbone), seen in red, functions as a shock absorber.

All the while, Rodgers' healing cells continue to chug away, providing for not only a stronger fracture callus and more-resistant bone, but also an increasingly difficult decision.

Why?

Six weeks after suffering a presumably non-displaced clavicle fracture, the Packers signal-caller may be approaching clinical readiness.

However, scoreboards and playoff standings do not change anything on a cellular level.

As for the big picture? That's a bit more complicated.

Two weeks ago—the first time rumors of Rodgers' return began to gain steam—the equation for a return didn't add up.

From a football standpoint, the Packers were in a free fall, and the Lions controlled the division.

Wikimedia Commons.
Displaced clavicle fractures—such as the one seen above—require surgery.

Medically, there was never really a chance either. Healing fracture calluses remain very weak less than a month out from injury, and any significant hit could have sent the 2011 MVP to the sidelines—and quite possibly surgery.

Fast forward two-and-a-half weeks.

After two consecutive one-point victories, Mike McCarthy's squad can now smell the playoffs. Wins in Week 16 and 17 will buy a postseason berth, and a Dec. 29 visit to Soldier Field in Chicago may very well decide the division.

What's more, the six-week mark represents the very earliest of feasible recovery times for a minor clavicle fracture.

In other words, it's getting close.

Yet somehow, Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie has to sift through it all with a clear head and an objective outlook.

According to McCarthy—via the Packers' official Twitter account—McKenzie already made a tough call in Week 15.

With Sunday and Monday's developments, Week 16's decision may prove harder still. 

Dr. Matt Matava—president of the NFL Physicians Society, professor of orthopedic surgery and sports medicine at Washington University in St. Louis and head team physician for the St. Louis Rams—weighed in on the issue of medical decision-making in the NFL during an interview with this author earlier in the season:

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"Physician jobs are not dependent on wins and losses," Matava explained. "I've survived 1-15, 2-14 and 3-13 seasons with the Rams. We can go 0-16, and my job does not change one iota. Nor do my partners of the other staffs throughout the NFL. We feel strongly that it doesn't matter what the record is. Our job does not depend on wins and losses."

That isn't to say medical teams are helpless.

Matava continued, "Obviously, we know that we want to have the guys back on the field as soon and as quickly as they can—in a safe fashion. We can be creative in the ways that we do so."

That said, the bottom line stays the same.

"There are no competitive issues that are involved with our day-to-day jobs."

Said another way?

For Rodgers, simply feeling good might not be enough. A thorough medical evaluation reigns above all else—even the playoffs.

After all, if a crushing hit could lead to surgery and several months of recovery for the franchise quarterback, the thought of an early return becomes a bit more sobering.

Then again, if Rodgers' next exam and CT scan demonstrate adequate function and bone healing, he may finally receive the clearance for which he has surely begged the past several weeks.

In the end, no one but the Packers medical team knows where Rodgers currently stands. Furthermore, deciding when his collarbone has passed a critical healing point may ultimately rely more on clinical experience rather than exact science. Luckily, physicians like McKenzie and Matava are the best of the best at what they do.

Either way, the NFC North just became a whole lot more interesting.

 

Dr. Dave Siebert is a resident physician at the University of Washington. He plans to pursue fellowship training in Primary Care (non-operative) Sports Medicine.

Follow him on Twitter for more sports, medicine and sports medicine.

Quotes were obtained firsthand.

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