Roethlisberger day-to-day with AC joint sprain, but experts like chances to play
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he suffered a sprained AC joint — once known in the medical field as a separated shoulder — during last week's win over the Bengals, which leaves his status in question for Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Broncos.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday said Roethlisberger “has a chance” to play, while Roethlisberger admitted that he is still in a lot of pain three days after he was injured.
“It is definitely sore,” Roethlisberger said during his weekly radio segment on KDKA-FM. “I think it is a little better than what it was. We are still taking it day-by-day.”
At his weekly news conference, Tomlin wouldn't confirm the specifics of the quarterback's injury, including Roethlisberger saying that he tore two ligaments in the shoulder when Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict sacked him late in the third quarter of Saturday's game.
“Just rest assured that it's been evaluated. He's potentially available to us. We're going to take care of him medically in an appropriate way and let the medical experts be our guide in terms of his participation,” Tomlin said.
Dr. David J. Chao, a former NFL head team physician and current SiriusXM Sports medical analyst, said it is highly unlikely that both ligaments in the joint are completely torn.
“That's what an AC joint sprain is: The joint capsule is injured, and you injure the conoid and trapezoid ligaments,” Chao said. “To say that they are torn completely isn't likely, because that's like a Grade 3 separation and your clavicle is more up in your ear and you can see it through a T-shirt.”
Roethlisberger was able to return for the final series against the Bengals but said he wasn't able to throw the ball with much velocity, which is typical of an AC joint injury.
The AC (acromioclavicular) joint is between the end of the collarbone and the tip of the shoulder blade. Two ligaments hold the two bones in place and provide vertical stability. When the joint is compromised, it is difficult to lift the arm over the head, which would make it difficult for Roethlisberger to throw a football.
When Roethlisberger returned late in the game against the Bengals, he threw only one of his eight passes farther than four yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
Dr. David Geier, a South Carolina-based orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist, said a key part of Roethlisberger's rehabilitation would include pain management and strengthening the compromised ligaments.
Geier said there are a number of ways to lessen the pain, including applying ice, using ultrasound, electrical stimulation, injections such as cortisone or Toradol and even taking over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen.
“Whatever you can do to get the pain out, because it is a painful injury, especially as you reach up over head,” Geier said. “That pain shuts down your rotator cuff strength and makes it hard to generate velocity on your throws. You have to work hard to rebuild that strength. Ultimately, it is a time thing. It is only a week, so that's a lot to ask.”
It's been done before.
This season, Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor suffered an AC joint injury in Week 11 against New England but played the next week against Kansas City. However, there are varying degrees of sprains, and Roethlisberger's could be worse than Taylor's.
Roethlisberger's penchant for returning quickly from injuries makes it a possibility that he will play against the Broncos.
“I think he's going to play and be fine,” Chao said. “The question is if he is going to be able to throw the ball down the field 55 yards. That I don't know.”
Geier added: “It is very hard to predict. Every day, you have to reassess where you are. The fact that they are saying that he might play is a pretty good sign.”
Roethlisberger is expected to participate in practice Wednesday, albeit on a limited basis. He's not expected to test the strength in his arm at that time, but Tomlin said he will increase Roethlisberger's activity as the week goes on.
Backup Landry Jones, who has two career starts, would replace Roethlisberger if he isn't able to play.