ANN ARBOR, Mich. — With Monday’s reports that Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight could miss the remainder of the regular season with a broken left collarbone, the No. 3 Wolverines now have to prepare for the final two games with a new quarterback.
The Detroit Free Press and Mgoblog.com reported that Speight will be out for the remainder of the regular season because of a broken collarbone, sustained in the fourth quarter of last Saturday’s 14-13 loss at Iowa.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t offer any detail regarding the nature of Speight’s injury during his Monday press conference, and on Monday night he refuted reports of Speight’s injury on the Inside Michigan Football radio show on Ann Arbor’s WTKA-AM.
— Oscareli (@Oscareli) November 14, 2016
Yet if, in fact, Speight did sustain a broken collarbone, he faces a lengthy recovery.
Dr. Eric Makhni, a sports medicine orthopedic surgeon with the Henry Ford Health System, which oversees five hospitals in the Detroit area, said a full return from a broken collarbone can take up to three months, either with or without surgery to repair the broken bone.
Bowl season begins in mid-December, and with Michigan projected this week by several outlets to play in the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl or even in the College Football Playoff bowls, that timetable could rule Speight out of bowl season, if he did sustain a broken left collarbone.
The collarbone is one of two horizontal bones located above the chest and between the shoulder and the base of the neck/top of the breastbone.
A broken collarbone, Makhni said, is sustained either through a direct hit or contact, or through indirect force, such as falling to the ground. Treatment for a broken collarbone depends on where the fracture is and how displaced that fracture is. A minimal displacement, where the fragments of the bone are next to each other, is treated with a sling and immobilization.
Separated bone fragments — and the degree to which the fragments are separated — could require surgery.
Surgery, Makhni said, takes anywhere from 60 minutes to 2 hours, and a surgeon puts the fractured pieces back together, then secures them with a plate and screws, which hold the bone together as it heals.
Following surgery, a patient would wear a sling for about seven to 10 days while the wound, muscle tissue and skin heals, and after that period, the sling is removed and the patient starts movement of the upper extremities — more elbow motion than shoulder motion.
Strengthening through rehabilitation and physical therapy does not begin until about six weeks after surgery, and the goal, Makhni said, is to get back to having strength in the shoulder and arm, with checkpoints that include range of motion, no pain and full healing of the fracture.
If surgery isn’t necessary, a patient remains in a sling and it takes anywhere from two to four weeks for the collarbone to heal, and strengthening and rehabilitation can start anywhere from six to 10 weeks after the injury.
“A full return is around three months after surgery,” Makhni said. “That’s for an athlete, for a laborer or for a recreational athlete.”
The demand for the return of an elite athlete who has a broken collarbone, however, could be higher than that of, say, a laborer or a weekend warrior.
“The thing that’s frustrating for athletes is that they want to use that injured area, and if it’s a displaced fracture, it’s going to hurt a lot,” Makhni said. “The pain comes from the bone ends moving and touching each other, or if the bone is stretching tissues. If you stabilize the bone with a plate, you’ve eliminated the pain, but you have to let the bone heal before you can start the strengthening phase. Bones take about four, six or even eight weeks to heal.”
One more variable goes into a broken bone — where the bone is broken. A routine fracture is typically along the shaft of the bone, but a collarbone can also be fractured at the end, which could produce a lower level of pain.
Saturday night at Iowa, after he was injured, Speight was treated on the sideline and returned to the field for Michigan’s final offensive drive.
— Oscareli (@Oscareli) November 14, 2016
“I think a lot of that ability (to continue to play) depends on the injury and how bad it is,” Makhni said.