The Steelers’ starting right guard, Doug Legursky, came out of the game against the Colts on Sunday night with a possible separated shoulder injury. His was one of three injuries to the offensive line during the game, causing a revolving door at the front lines trying to protect Ben Roethlisberger. Legursky has been stated as probable to play next Sunday at Houston, but what exactly is a separated shoulder and will he be able to play at 100% in a week?
A separated shoulder is actually an injury to the AcromioClavicular (AC) joint on top of the shoulder. This is the highest bony point on your shoulder where your collarbone (clavicle) meets up with the acromion process, which is a bony protrusion coming off of the shoulder blade (scapula). Three ligaments stabilize this bony joint which helps to provide a framework for your shoulder and create a pivot point for shoulder motion (such as lifting your arm above your head).
A separated shoulder is not the same as a dislocated shoulder. In a dislocated shoulder, the ball and socket of the shoulder becomes dislodged, causing major damage to the shoulder capsule and muscles, such as the rotator cuff. A separated shoulder occurs when the stabilizing ligaments of the AC joint are stretched or torn, forcing the bones apart. The mechanism of injury is typically from either falling on the side of the shoulder, or falling on an outstretched arm.
The AC sprain is diagnosed according to the degree of separation between the two bones, and surgery is rarely needed. Slight deformity and swelling at the top of the shoulder is common with this injury, as is pain at the end of the collarbone, decreased motion and loss of strength in the affected arm.
This is a very painful injury and is best treated initially with ice and a sling to allow for rest of the joint. Other than some gentle range of motion exercises, there isn’t a lot of rehab to be done for this injury. It can take from 1-6 weeks to return to play from a separated shoulder, depending on the severity and the athlete’s pain tolerance. Movements that involve raising the arms above the chest or repetitive blocking may be a challenge for Legursky with an early return this week in Houston. With the help of some pain control, the Steelers may be able to have their starter back in the trenches for game time.
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