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Roethlisberger out with potentially life-threatening rib injury

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 10:30 a.m.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger calls a play at the line during the second quarter against the Chiefs Monday, Nov. 12, 2012 at Heinz Field. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

One of Ben Roethlisberger's first questions upon learning about his rare combination of injuries was asking how long it normally takes to recover.

His doctor's answer? No idea because there is nothing normal about them.

Roethlisberger, whose steady playmaking is largely responsible for the Steelers' 6-3 record, has a dislocated rib that could be life-threatening if he were to play, plus an upper-chest injury that is significant in itself.

“From what (the doctor) said, he's trying to talk to experts because there's no case study that's had this exact same thing,” said Roethlisberger, who is being treated by Steelers orthopedist Jim Bradley, among others. “From what he told me, it was a 1998 rugby player or something (who had this). We're just trying to talk to people and get an expectation because we don't know.”

Roethlisberger was upbeat but a bit weary — he slept uneasily in a chair for only a few hours the previous two nights — while talking to reporters Wednesday about the injuries that will keep him out of one and possibly both Steelers-Ravens showdowns in the next three weeks.

Roethlisberger said he dislocated his top rib — the first rib — that protects the aorta, the largest artery in the body, while being driven to the turf Monday night by Chiefs linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. He immediately knew something was wrong, saying he heard “a crunch and a crack.”

If the rib had punctured the aorta, it could have been dangerous.

“That's more of the scary part,” he said.

Earlier this season, Rams receiver Danny Amendola similarly dislocated his clavicle, which popped inward and could have threatened his trachea and aorta.

Roethlisberger dislocated the sternoclavicular joint that connects the sternum to the collarbone, a condition that occurs when the ligaments tear under stress. Coach Mike Tomlin referred Tuesday to this injury as a strain, but he offered no additional information Wednesday about the rib injury.

“To my knowledge the injuries are one in the same,” Tomlin said. “I think they are connected. (But) I don't have a skeleton in front of me.”

Could the injuries be season-threatening?

“I don't think so. I don't know, though,” Roethlisberger said. “I'm not a medical expert.”

Roethlisberger apparently does not need surgery and simply must wait to heal before he can return.

“It's more the rib that's the concern than the SC joint,” he said. “I can move (the right shoulder) around. That's not the issue. But when I move it, the rib will pop out of place again, and that's pretty painful, needless to say. I try to keep it as still as I can.”

Dr. David Geier, a South Carolina-based orthopedist who specializes in sports injuries, has never heard of an athlete dislocating the first rib. He said such an injury would occur perhaps once in one million cases.

“The first rib is a very stable bone,” said Geier, who has been monitoring the Roethlisberger situation because the injury is so unusual. “I've never seen it pop out of place. I've never seen this in sports. But if the rib is fractured, which is more common, then you just let it heal.”

Geier said a rib couldn't be self-adjusted, as Roethlisberger described, and it is more likely the SC joint that needs to be pushed back into place.

Regardless of whether the rib is fractured or dislocated, it is an uncommon set of injuries even for an athlete accustomed to pain and discomfort.

“This is one of those freak things,” Roethlisberger said.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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