Fantasy Football Injury Analysis: Ryan Matthews’ Clavicle Fracture

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Here is a pre-season stat line that makes fantasy owners sick:

RB Ryan Matthews: 1 carry, 5 yards, 1 broken clavicle

Matthews was projected to have a huge fantasy season, so how much will this affect his production?  Matthews had surgery to fix the clavicle right away, and the team released a statement saying that he should return in 4-6 weeks.  Let’s examine the medical facts and see if this makes sense.

Bone takes about six weeks to heal and become structurally solid, and that’s if everything goes well.  Putting a plate and screws on the bone makes it more rigid but may slow the biologic healing process if the blood supply is compromised with the surgery.  Fixing the clavicle surgically with a plate and screws does not necessarily make the bone heal faster, but it does limit the risk of re-fracture and may allow the athlete to return to play sooner.  A study in 2010 of NFL players with clavicle fractures showed that those that were plated returned in an average of 8.8 weeks.  Marques Colston had his clavicle fracture plated and returned in 3 weeks.  Why do some players return so much sooner?  It has a lot to do with the nature of the fracture.  Clavicle fractures in the middle third of the bone heal faster, as do fractures that are not comminuted (in multiple pieces).

Some clavicle fractures are treated without surgery (as with Tony Romo) and heal just fine that way without the associated risks of surgery.  However, the risk of re-fracture from returning too quickly is high.  For example, Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone his junior year at Oklahoma and it was treated without surgery.  He returned for the Fiesta Bowl that season and re-fractured his clavicle during the game.

There is also the deconditioning factor to consider, since Matthews won’t be able to lift weights with his upper body during his early recovery.  He should be able to stay in good cardiovascular shape but his strength may suffer, making fumbles more of a possibility upon his return.  The good news is that once the fracture is healed he should have no restrictions on hitting the weights hard and an athlete of his caliber will be back to top form in only a few weeks.

Matthews has a better chance of returning quickly since he had his clavicle fixed surgically.  Will he be back in 4 weeks? I haven’t seen his X-rays, but I doubt it.  Colston was able to do it quickly but a running back takes much more punishment on the shoulders.  If his fracture was in the middle third of the clavicle, not comminuted, and heals without incident then I would suspect a six-week return at best, with 8-10 weeks not being out of the question.