Health and fitness

Dr. Flynn: Explaining Tom Brady’s shoulder injury

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(Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Tom Brady has been taking quite a beating through five games this season. You couldn’t help but think that at least one of them was going to stick. Brady was initially injured in the Week 4 loss to the Panthers. The injury was re-aggravated on a sack against the Buccaneers. The injury is reportedly an “AC joint sprain” of the left shoulder. An MRI done today was said to be reassuring.

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is the small joint on the front of the shoulder where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the acromion (bone at the tip of the shoulder). An injury to the AC joint most commonly occurs when an athlete falls directly onto the side of the shoulder. Brady has fallen directly onto his left shoulder multiple times in the past few weeks and made a comment about how he tried to land on the left shoulder instead of his throwing arm. Video backs that up as he could be seen earlier this season spinning through a sack to avoid landing on his right side. Here’s video of the play where Mike Giardi of NBC Sports Boston says that Brady’s re-injury occurred last week. You’ll see him fall directly onto the left shoulder.

https://twitter.com/MikeGiardi/status/917843421544570880

Injuries to the AC joint can be categorized a few different ways, but my very basic sketch below shows the most common types, graded in order of severity from 1 to 3.

img_5901.jpg

Any of these injuries could be considered an AC joint sprain or a “shoulder separation.” Those two terms are synonymous. A Grade 1 sprain is the mildest injury where the ligaments are all intact but stretched and no deformity (bump) is seen on the shoulder. A Grade 2 injury is a bit more significant where the ligaments are a bit more stretched and some are torn, a small bump can be seen. A Grade 3 injury means that multiple ligaments are torn and there is a significant bump deformity seen on the shoulder.

Brady has a history of an AC joint injury on his right (throwing) shoulder in 2002. He initially was said to have sustained a Grade 1 AC injury in December '02 and re-injured it in the season’s final game that year against Miami. Brady played through the injury after extensive rehab, but continued to experience pain and clicking. The QB eventually went on to have surgery in that shoulder, but not until 2004.

All reports Tuesday point to Brady’s left shoulder injury being relatively mild and the word is that Brady should be ready to play this weekend in New Jersey. The language being used sounds like a Grade 1 or 2 injury, but that’s really all I have to go on right now. For some comparison, last year Broncos’ QB Trevor Siemian had a left shoulder Grade 3 separation. He missed one week of the regular season and eventually had off-season surgery because it bothered him during workouts.

Brady is as tough as they come. If this is a mild injury then I’m feeling optimistic that he’ll be on the field this weekend. My major concern, however, is the rate at which he is being hit. Could a further aggravated left shoulder injury make him more reluctant to fall on that side to avoid injury to his throwing arm?

Unfortunately, Brady’s ability to be on the field this season may fall squarely on an entirely different set of shoulders then the ones we’re talking about — those of Dante Scarnecchia and the Patriots’ offensive line. The pressure is now on them to protect the greatest quarterback of all time.