“I also had a stress fracture in four of those games. But nobody knows that. I had a stress fracture in my leg. A sore shin as you guys call it, but that’s all right. Obviously, I’m not making excuses.”
         —Clay Matthews


Who knew this one q uote from Rob Demovsky’s Press Gazette article would cause so much angst today? I’ve seen this admission twisted into the extreme of OMG, Clay Matthews played on a Broken Leg! Of course those sensational headlines make it sound like his shin was split in two and he heroically played on a bum leg. While I don’t doubt this is the stuff of that makes legends all the more, well, legendary, it is also plainly clear that Matthews didn’t have a x-ray like this one.

For the record, this isn’t Clay Matthews’ x-ray. Yes, the film shows a broken tibia (shin bone) but I doubt anyone who sustained this severity of fracture would be playing on that injury. For that matter, I doubt anyone with that time of broken bone would be walking around without a cast and a pair of crutches. This type of break comes from an acute event, usually a high impact one such as motor vehicle accident.

What Matthews had, he summed up quite well. He had a stress fracture in his shin, something that doesn’t develop from a single injury. In other words, it’s an injury of overuse. These type of injuries are common in athletes. They develop over time from repetitive stress. Sometimes they’re called fatigue fractures most commonly seen in athletes that repetitively run and jump where their own weight is the stressor pounding on the bone. That’s why the most common places for stress fractures are in the shins and feet. And unlike the fracture in the above x-ray, these types of injuries don’t start showing up on a plain x-ray until the bone is in the healing process (ie, the horse is well out of the barn.) Chances are Matthews never had a dramatic xray. If anything, it looked like this one. Pretty boring, yeah? (The little arrow is pointing to the healing stress fracture on the inside edge of the shin.) Yeah, I know. Not much to the eye, but it still hurts like a mother.

That ache an athlete gets in his/her shin is the first sign that there is an overuse injury. Some will call it a shin splint. And yes, you can have shin splints without a true stress fracture. But I consider shin splints to be part of a continuum toward a stress fracture. The pain is a warning that you are heading down that road of a chronic overuse injury. By the time you get the diagnosis of stress fracture, there isn’t much left to do but rest and rehab. You can’t put a screw or plate over a stress fracture to speed up the healing process. You need to stop banging on it to let it heal.

Now this isn’t to say Clay Matthew’s is milking a wimpy injury or making excuses. After all he did manage to play most of the season and was in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. But it does shed light on his limited practice for a large hunk of the year. If repetitive stress leads to these types of injury, then day after day practice would have been his own worst enemy.

But the injury, or more importantly the fact that it was not exactly public  knowledge brings in a whole different facet to this conversation. Why was it so secret?

Aaron Nagler raised the issue when he tweeted :

It does a disservice to the player when those covering the team are writing “He’s playing poorly” – and don’t know he’s on a broken le g.

Maybe. The Packers never lied. Last year they listed him on the injury report as a “Shin Injury.” That’s not any more specific when a player is listed as “knee” which could mean a bruise, an MCL tear or other injury.

I think the Packers did quite the contrary. They did Matthews a great service by not highlighting his Achilles’ Heel for every opponent to exploit at will. Other teams are supposed to fear someone like Matthews, not realize he’s a little less of a brick wall with a bum shin. And I’m not the only one who was thinking this today. DirectingTitan also raised this issue on Twitter with this post :

Would opposing players targeting a leg known to be broken be an issue?

You bet your sweet bippy other teams target injuries. You can’t tell me that once everyone found out the Washed Up Former Quarterback From Minnesota was playing on a injured ankle that teams–the Packers included–weren’t aiming at it as a quick way to disable the offense.

And if you need further evidence that injuries are exploited for gain, look no further than our own quarterback. Was it any coincidence that Julius Peppers was nothing short of a heat seeking missile directed straight at Aaron Rodgers’ head in the NFC Championship? Even though his two concussions had nothing to do with each other, Rodgers became the poster child for NFL head injuries. Every defensive player knew it. The last time CNN ran a segment on NFL concussions, Rodgers was featured in three of the five images shown. After those injuries, there was no mistaking the invisible bulls eye that got painted on the side of his helmet for the rest of the season. Every team knew he’d taken two on the head and really didn’t want a third. And they certainly knew that if they scrambled his brain enough during a game that he would have to sit and a relatively untested second string Flynn would take the next snap behind center. Rodgers was a force to be reckoned with. But Flynn? It’s much easier to beat a QB where you can count how many snaps he’d taken in previous games on one hand.

Same goes for Matthews. The Packers fulfilled their obligation to list his injury, but they sure as heck weren’t going to be painting another bulls eye on another one of their biggest weapons. Ted Thompson has never been one for showing his proverbial cards, and he wasn’t going to start by handing out bone scans of Clay Matthew’s sore leg. There a difference between the injury report a team is obligated to list and the need-to-know information that can be exploited against them. The Packers did nothing wrong being vague when it comes Matthews’ injury last season. After all, you may have a back door that never locks no matter what you try to secure it. But do you really want every petty thief in a tri-state area know your back door will be open the entire week you are on vacation? And if you’re naive enough to make that type announcement known, you might as well give them a map to the valuables inside.

*Disclaimer #1 : These aren’t Clay Matthews’ xrays. I don’t even know which one of his shins that he injured. I have never examined him nor participated in his care. I am not an orthopaedic surgeon (don’t like power tools enough) nor do I play one on TV.

**Disclaimer #2: These irreverent opinions are mine and only mine and have nothing to do with my unnamed employer.

***Disclaimer #3: Caveat Emptor.

****Disclaimer #4: Semper Ube Sub Ube. (Loosely translated: Always wear underwear.)

*****Disclaimer #5: I never claimed to be fluent in Latin.



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  • foundinidaho

    ROFL at your disclaimers. Typical doctor. ;)

    I had shin splints in high school. I played volleyball, basketball, ran track and was a cheerleader. None of them well, I’m not bragging, but I point it out to say I put a helluva lot of stress on my legs and it showed. And it hurt like a beyotch. For Clay to do what he did in spite of his injury speaks volumes to his talent and commitment. Very proud of him.

  • http://www.pocketdoppler.com BigSnakeMan

    Interesting analogy about the unlocked back door. So, um, are you still on vacation? ;)