There are two types of shoulder injuries common in football — a separation and a dislocation. One, you can play with; one, you shouldn’t even try.
But before we get into the details, let’s get this out of the way: Broncos wide receiver Courtland Sutton should be fine given time to heal.
During my junior year in college a defender fell on my arm and my shoulder popped out of the socket. Trainers popped it back in and I tried playing the next week but was ineffective because I couldn’t lift my arm over my head. Wide receivers need to be able to do that. The shoulder bothered me for the next two years until I had surgery. In addition to being able to lift your hands above your head to catch passes, a receiver must be able to swat away the strong arms of opposing defensive backs attempting to jam him on the line of scrimmage. You dislocate your shoulder, you can’t do any of that.
But there is another kind of shoulder injury, one that is more common in football, and one that you can play through more easily. This is reportedly what happened to Sutton, arguably the Broncos’ best offensive player.
They call it a “sprained AC joint.” The AC joint is that bone on the top of your shoulder, and that gets injured when you land on it or it gets hit really hard. Yes, shoulder pads are supposed to prevent that, but sometimes they can’t. Sometimes the hit is too hard or at just the right angle and there’s nothing you can do about it. And in Sutton’s case, sometimes you meet an immovable object–the ground. You’re going to lose that fight every time.
By all accounts, Sutton was diving for a pass, reached out with one arm and landed on the other shoulder. Boom. Sprained AC joint. A hose of fire ants is turned on full blast through your neck, down your shoulder and into your arm. It is very painful but the pain subsides relatively quickly, and the bonus is nothing popped out of socket.
Nothing dislocated. Nothing to pop back in place. No torn ligaments or muscles or rotator cuffs. Just a good deal of soreness and, essentially, a very deep bone bruise. It will hurt to lift your arm up over your head for a few days, but it’s not the kind of pain that makes you feel like your arm is going to pop out of the socket.
And the beauty of the AC joint sprain is that you really aren’t at risk of making it worse. Sure, take another hit on it and it will hurt for a minute, but football players get paid to play with pain. Something always hurts in football. If it doesn’t, just wait a minute. So even if Sutton does miss this opener against Tennessee on Monday night, he should be back the following week.
Truth is, though, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see him give it a go on Monday night. Game day is what you train for. And that’s three days away — 72 hours of rest and recovery. The human body — especially the professional athlete’s body — heals very fast.
Also, there’s cortisone. You put in a needle into the skin and down to the bone where the injury occurred, and you inject the medicine, which numbs the area. There are some injuries that cortisone is especially effective in treating; a sprained AC Joint happens to be one of them.
So, if I were a betting man, I’d say we see Sutton on the field Monday night. I’d also bet that the Titans will be interested in testing the efficacy of that shoulder. Sharks are attracted to blood in the water, and the injury report tells them who is bleeding, and where.
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