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Returning to play after a broken collarbone

In October, Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers quarterback suffered a collarbone fracture. He is now ready to return to the field. Physical therapist, Chad Kofoed explains what rehab is like for a professional athlete.                                                                         

What is the typical recovery time for a broken collarbone?

This can vary based on the severity and type of fracture. Smaller collarbone fractures that do not need surgery can often heal in as little as four to six weeks. Larger fractures broken into many pieces requires stabilization with a plate and screws. This type of fracture may take three or more months to heal.

Aaron Rodgers surgery involved 2 plates and 13 screws.

For a professional athlete what does rehab look like?

For a professional athlete or not, all rehab follows the same general process:  

Just Heal: All fractures need time to heal and generally be left alone. The first four weeks of his recovery likely involved wearing a sling and keeping more of his total body rather than rehabbing his shoulder.

Range Of Motion (ROM): The second part of rehab from a collarbone fracture involves restoring the full ROM needed to throw a football again. Luckily for Rodgers, no secondary muscle injury occurred with his fracture. His flexibility likely returned with only a week or two of mild stretching.

Strengthening: Regaining total shoulder strength is crucial before a throwing program can begin. With advances in rehab, such as blood flow restriction therapy, progressions in strength after surgery occurring post operatively faster than ever before.

Throwing: Rodgers has now been throwing for a few weeks and conditioning his arm to return to the field.

Will rehab continue after getting back onto the field?

Yes and no. For the most part, once his a fracture has healed he should be able to return to play unrestricted. Mild increases in pain and swelling around the fracture site is not uncommon. The team’s medical staff will watch and treat these symptoms as they occur.

How does this compare to a non-pro athlete?

The main difference in rehab of a professional athlete comes down to risk vs. reward. Most patients rehabbing from a collarbone fracture don’t care if it takes 8 or 12 weeks, just as long as they get better. With Rodgers, the fate of the Packers team does rest on his shoulders. His return is a calculated decision, made by the team’s medical staff, coaches, management, and both Rodgers and his agent.  If the Packers were out of the playoffs at this point, there would be no need to consider bringing him back this year.

What is a broken collarbone?

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