Mathews left last night’s game with what appeared to be an innocuous shoulder injury to many last night. Unfortunately, the injury turned out to be a fractured clavicle and an early 4-6 week estimate for his possible return.
It’s important to note that the decision to fix Mathews’ clavicle surgically is not an indication that his fracture is severe. Although it once used to be common practice to allow clavicular fractures to heal without surgery, fixation has been the norm for elite athletes for some time. Many studies show that the risk of non-union (the two ends of the clavicle won’t find each other and heal) is much higher in patients treated without surgery. Also, those who undergo surgery seem to take less time to recover strength and range of motion in their shoulder.
Even athletes that have very minor fractures – a group that likely includes Marques Colston, who had his clavicle plated last year and returned in a less than three weeks – will have a surgical fixation performed in the hopes that they can return to play as quickly as possible.
Still, though Mathews fracture may not be severe, there’s no guarantee the 4-6 week return to play estimate will prove accurate. The quick recovery of Colston last season looks reassuring, but I think it will prove an outlier. Though we have no knowledge of the specifics of Mathews’ fracture (e.g. the location of the fracture, whether the ends were displaced or overlapping, if there were any associated injuries), I think there is a good argument that a return in the 6+ week range is more likely than a return at four weeks.
Studies on professional athletes generally cite the average healing time after a clavicle fracture at 6-8 weeks. That’s not necessarily a reason to discount the early estimate given for Mathews but I think it’s reasonable to assume that a team might err on the side of caution with a running back who will not be able to avoid contact around the shoulder.
While it’s possible that Mathews could be cleared for a return on September 10, I think it’s likely that we’ll see him miss at least one regular season game. Giving Mathews an extra week or two of healing time may be in his best interest, to continue to lessen the risk of re-injury.
There are reasons to be optimistic for a quick return to form once Mathews is cleared. He should have no difficulty maintaining his conditioning and should be at relatively low risk of a compensatory injury upon his return. The Chargers will likely be comfortable getting him to his previously expected workload quickly.
I’ve had many questions asking whether Mathews should be considered injury-prone and unable to handle the workload the Chargers have planned for him. That’s a question the Chargers are undoubtedly asking themselves again today.
I think that question leads to an interesting, and controversial, discussion about whether some players are more likely to suffer injury than others and what teams might look for to make that determination. I’ll save my thoughts on that subject for another post.
Categories: Injury Updates