Packer Fans watched in dismay as Aaron Rodgers hit the ground after being tackled by a Vikings’ player on October 15, 2017.

As they watched the slow-motion replay, even fans without medical training knew the angle of Rodgers’ throwing arm and the force of the hit probably meant he would be out the game for a while.

And they were right.

The injury put Rodgers on the injured-reserve list with a fractured collarbone for most of the season.

What happened to Rodgers’ collarbone?

While we do not know the exact details of Rodgers’ break, we can share some general information about broken collarbones.

First, everyone has two collarbones or clavicles. They are the thin bones extending from the top of each shoulder to join the top of the sternum (breastbone) in the middle of the chest. The clavicles lie just under the skin at the front of the neck, forming a boney collar — hence the common name collarbone. Without the added padding of muscles and support of the ligaments, the collarbones are susceptible to fracture during an awkward fall.

Children and young adults, whose bones are still growing, are particularly vulnerable to clavicle fractures. When people fall and try to protect themselves by using their arms, the impact stresses the collarbone. Too much force buckles and breaks the bone.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), collarbone fractures account for approximately five percent of all adult fractures. A severe break that is not repositioned and stabilized correctly could result in permanent weakness and limited movement in the affected shoulder.

How do I know if I have a broken collarbone?

No matter the age or the situation, a broken clavicle often means breath-taking pain when the fracture occurs. It’s a clear sign something is wrong.

Sometimes, the broken bone is visible under the skin. It appears as a lump or a tent-like protrusion. At other times, a broken collarbone causes the following symptoms:

  • Pain and tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm or fingers
  • Pain or a grinding sensation when lifting the arm
  • A noticeable slumping or sagging of the shoulder

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your primary care provider or orthopedic specialist. Your healthcare provider will X-ray the area to pinpoint the location of the break and determine its severity before recommending treatment.

How are broken collarbones treated?

Since there is no easy way to immobilize the area, an orthopedic specialist will prescribe treatment based on the severity of the injury.

  • A small crack or a broken clavicle that is aligned and stabilized by the surrounding muscles will most likely need a sling to immobilize the arm.
  • A severe clavicle break will not heal well on its own. A collarbone that is broken in several places or a break that causes severe misalignment needs surgery. During the surgical repair, the orthopedic surgeon may use a series of metal plates and screws to reposition and stabilize the bone.

    In some cases, the surgeon may use an intramedullary fixation technique. This minimally invasive procedure places a single screw inside the bone to repair the break. The interior-screw method usually allows people to recover faster and regain full-range of motion.

In both cases, your provider will recommend that you rest from activity.

Athletes often ask, “When can I play again?”

There’s no hard and fast rule about timing. You cannot rush healing. Broken bones take 6 to 12 weeks to heal, depending on the severity and location of the break.

Whether you had surgery or not, you may find yourself wearing a sling to keep your arm from moving. Most orthopedic providers recommend immobilizing the shoulder for the first few weeks to ensure the body has time to repair the break and grow new bone.

After a few weeks, your provider may tell you to start gentle shoulder exercises. These small movements prevent muscle atrophy and preserve the movement of the shoulder joint. If your clavicle tolerates a small range of motion without pain, your healthcare provider may permit you to increase your activity.

If the movement hurts, stop the activity right away. Pushing past the pain could jeopardize the strength and future mobility of your shoulder. Working with a physical therapist during recovery helps you regain strength and maximize mobility. Sometimes, physical therapy helps people regain full range-of-motion.

Before you return to the field or the rink, you will need your healthcare provider’s permission. You may need another X-ray to confirm the collarbone has healed enough to tolerate activity.

  • After you are released to play, consider working with an athletic trainer or sports medicine provider. A progressive conditioning program will help you rebuild muscle and prevent re-injury to your collarbone as you rejoin the team.

When should you call the doctor?

If you notice any of the symptoms below after a fall, a collision or collarbone surgery, call your primary care provider or an orthopedic specialist.

  • Your arm or hand feels numb.
  • There’s a pins-and-needles feeling in your arm.
  • Your pain doesn’t go away.
  • The fingers on the affected side turn blue, black or white.
  • You can’t move your fingers.
  • Your shoulder looks lopsided.
  • The collarbone looks deformed.

With proper treatment, your collarbone injury should heal and allow full-range of shoulder motion.

If you experience a broken collarbone, contact your primary care provider or an orthopedic specialist for proper evaluation and treatment.