Ben Roethlisberger injury: What is a SC sprain and how long will it cost the Steelers QB?

Gregory Shamus

SB Nation's medical expert weighs in.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has an injury to his shoulder and is considered questionable heading into Pittsburgh's Week 11 showdown with the Baltimore Ravens. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was tight-lipped on what the injury means for Roethlisberger's status next week but he did mention some specifics about the injury, calling it a SC sprain for the Steelers QB.

First off, what exactly is a sternoclavicular sprain? SB Nation's medical contributor, Dr. Ali Mohamadi, with the answer:

When they said it was an "unusual" injury, I was wondering if it might be an SC joint injury because this is an uncommon joint to be sprained/dislocated. As opposed to the most common site of a shoulder injury (where the humerus inserts into the shoulder), this is actually the joint that connects the sternum to the clavicle, and the cartilage holding the bones in place is very strong. There are basically two ways it can be sprained, which by definition is tearing of the cartilage holding the joint in place: the clavicle can shift in front of the sternum -- anterior sprain --- or behind it -- posterior sprain. Anterior sprains are more common and cause pain/swelling in the front of the chest as well as a "bump" in the middle of the chest. Posterior sprains cause pain and swelling as well, but because the clavicle is dislocated inward, it can theoretically affect internal structures (trachea, esophagus, blood vessels). In either case, movement of the SC joint will be limited.

The million dollar question is how long Roethlisberger will be out. This all depends on the severity and location of the sprain, but Dr. Mohamadi takes an early guess that the injury will cost Roethlisberger at least one game.

The biggest issue here, even if it is a mild sprain, is that this is his throwing shoulder. A moderate sprain may require placing the joint back into position and allowing it to heal with devices such as a sling/strap for 4-6 weeks. Worst case scenario, for a dislocation, is surgery, which is six-plus weeks for full recovery. Even with a mild sprain, with the injury affecting his throwing shoulder I'd think it's unlikely he will play this week, but then again he hasn't skipped a beat with other injuries that many thought would have kept him out of action.

Roethlisberger is known as one of the toughest players in football, playing through a number of injuries through the years. But playing through an injury to his throwing shoulder is another question.

Tomlin mentioned that Roethlisberger has played before without practicing, so we may not even have a good read on his status until game day.

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