Yesterday I did an interview with the Tuscaloosa News regarding University of Alabama safety Mark Barron’s surgery. The junior safety was reportedly injured in the Crimson Tide’s loss to Auburn last week. He reportedly had surgery to repair a torn pectoral tendon. Alabama coach Nick Saban announced that Barron would miss the team’s bowl game this year.
As I discussed in the article, a pectoral tendon injury is an uncommon shoulder injury in football, but football is one of the more common sports where this injury occurs. I usually see it more in weight lifting, where an athlete feels a tearing sensation in the decline portion of the movement or in pushing the large weight up suddenly. The athlete usually knows immediately that something has happened, and the shoulder, chest wall, and upper arm turn black and blue. Usually a defect is easily noticeable. I usually will have the patient lift both arms, and a difference in the appearance of the pectoral muscle and the axillary fold between the chest and the arm is fairly obvious.
Pectoral tendon injuries in high-level athletes often require an MRI to determine if the injury is a tendon injury or a muscle injury, as muscle injuries often heal on their own. Injuries where the tendon is pulled off the bone of the upper arm almost always need surgical repair to restore full strength. The surgery usually involves making a small incision to repair the tendon back down to bone with suture anchors that are buried into bone.
The rehabilitation process is an extensive one, as the surgeon has to get the tendon to heal in its repaired position. Often the arm will be kept in a sling for 4-6 weeks. Motion and strengthening are restored slowly, and it might be 2-3 months before he is allowed to do overhead motion. Return to sports can take 4-6 months.
In Barron’s case, the player is eligible for the NFL draft. A 4-6 month recovery might affect his ability to compete effectively at the NFL Combine. Fortunately for Barron, the results of the surgery and getting back to football are fairly good. While recovery is ultimately a lengthy process, I expect that Barron will get back to football at the same or higher level barring some unforeseen circumstances.