ESPN.com’s Joe Schad Is reporting that an unidentified source claims that Florida junior quarterback John Brantley played in Saturday night’s game against LSU with rib and thumb injuries and shoulder pain. According to the source, Brantley had been diagnosed earlier in the week with hairline fractures to four ribs despite head coach Urban Meyer’s description of the injury as “damage” to Brantley’s ribs. The source also notes that while Brantley supposedly has a sprain to his thumb on his throwing hand, there is reportedly a small fracture in the thumb as well. Finally, the source claims that due to the discomfort that Brantley felt in his ribs, the quarterback overcompensated for the rib injury, which caused him to have shoulder pain in his throwing arm.
Now obviously I’m not taking care of Brantley or have any inside information of his injury (please refer to my disclaimer of discussing injuries among famous athletes), but I do have some thoughts on the matter. Schad reports that the source claims that Brantley wore a protective vest under his jersey to protect his ribs. That would certainly seem like a reasonable treatment plan for a football player with rib fractures. How effective that vest would be at limiting pain if Brantley was hit would be hard to predict, but it would be unlikely for him to do further damage to his ribs by taking shots from defensive players. The big problem with rib fractures is pain – not just from being hit, but also from the twisting motion involved in throwing. It’s certainly possible that his rib pain altered his throwing mechanics enough that he developed shoulder discomfort. As for Brantley’s thumb, I did notice that he wore tape in a pattern that looked like it immobilized his thumb and kept it from bending much. The source describes a sprain and a small fracture. I wonder if Brantley suffered an ulnar collateral ligament injury to his thumb and pulled a small piece of bone off with the ligament. Again, until Brantley or the Florida coaching or medical staff publicly comment on the injuries, we will never know for sure.
The big question that I’m sure people will ask when they read this story is whether or not Brantley should have been playing with these injuries in the first place. In this respect, I usually tell patients with any sports injury that I have two questions to ask in order to determine whether or not a player can try to play through an injury. These two questions really apply to all sports injuries, and not just Brantley’s injuries. First, will the athlete do further damage to his injury by trying to play? An example would be a player who tears his ACL but yet tries to keep playing in games the rest of the season. In this case, he risks his knee buckling, which could damage other structures in the knee, such as the meniscus or articular cartilage. Second, can the athlete do his job on the field if he tries to play? For instance, suppose a safety recently dislocated his shoulder and tries to play in a protective brace. If the opposing team’s running back breaks through the defensive line and linebackers and the injured safety is the only player who could potentially tackle the running back, will his shoulder allow him to make the tackle? If his injury prevents him from being able to make that tackle, he’s not doing his team any good by being out on the field.
We don’t know the thought process that went into the decision for Brantley to play. I have no doubt that a thorough discussion of the risks and benefits of playing was held between the coaches, Brantley himself, and the medical staff. Brantley acknowledged the decision, although somewhat downplaying the injury. “There was never any doubt that I was going to play,” Brantley told reporters after the game. “I knew since Monday or Sunday I was. They’re [ribs] just a little banged up. Nothing too serious. Nothing you can’t play through.”