20 straight completed passes is certainly an impressive streak. 20 straight completed passes by a quarterback with a fractured scapula on his throwing shoulder is truly stunning.

Few injuries in recent memory have generated more interest in the Palmetto State than the injured shoulder of University of South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw was briefly knocked out of USC’s season opener against Vanderbilt when a defender drove his helmet into Shaw’s shoulder blade making a tackle. A second injury to that shoulder as he lunged for the end zone caused the Gamecocks fans to hold their collective breath.

Early reports claimed that the quarterback suffered a bone bruise in his throwing shoulder but no damage to the joint itself. Head coach Steve Spurrier acknowledged that Shaw’s pain might keep him off the field. “It’s just painful for him,” he said. “And he has trouble lifting his arm right now so it’s pretty hard to play quarterback.”

After sitting out of his team’s win over East Carolina, Shaw returned to lead the Gamecocks against UAB. Once again, he left the game holding his arm at his side after he took another blow to his throwing shoulder.

After the game, Shaw himself acknowledged the true nature of his shoulder damage. As reported by Darryl Slater, Shaw suffered a “crack” in his shoulder blade in that opening win against Vanderbilt. He aggravated that injury in the UAB game. Spurrier claimed that Shaw suffered “no extra fracture” with the second injury.

Scapular body
The scapula body (red arrow) is the anatomic term for what most people call the shoulder blade. Fractures of this part of the bone require tremendous force.
Whether it was only a “crack” or not, a scapular fracture is a tough injury. Football fans rarely hear about these injuries because they rarely occur in sports. It requires a tremendous amount of force to fracture the body of the scapula (the blade portion of the shoulder bone). Orthopaedic surgeons typically only see these fractures in trauma situations, such as motor vehicle accidents.

As with Shaw, scapular body fractures almost never require surgery. Unless there are coexisting injuries in the shoulder, which he apparently didn’t have, they can be treated with time to allow the bone to heal.

The problem any athlete with such an injury faces is severe pain. In addition to bone pain, use of the arm is difficult because so many of the muscles that control the shoulder and arm attach to the scapula. It is remarkable that a quarterback with this injury on his throwing shoulder could perform so well.

And South Carolina fans know how well Shaw performed last week. After he overthrew Marcus Lattimore on his first pass attempt, Shaw picked apart an overmatched Missouri defense, completing his final 20 passes despite that scapula fracture.

I can’t imagine how much pain Shaw experienced with every blow to his shoulder and every time he hit the ground. Taking a helmet to that scapula might feel like an electric shock shooting through his shoulder and arm. Even Spurrier had that concern. Before the UAB game, he reportedly asked his quarterback, “If you get hit on that (spot), are you going to be hurting?” Shaw apparently told his coach, “No, I’m going to be all right.”

Darryl Slater asked Spurrier earlier this week if Shaw would wear extra padding to protect his shoulder blade. “Not that I know of. I didn’t seem him wearing any extra padding. It’s a small fracture that doctors say takes time to completely heal, but if he happened to get bonked on it, it may hurt a little bit right then, but he can’t hurt it any worse.”

Barring further injury, Shaw’s shoulder will become an afterthought. Fans will remember his streak and focus on the Gamecocks’ quest for the SEC title. Not me. I’ll remember him fighting through pain to play at all.

The Dr. David Geier ShowConnor Shaw returns from scapula fracture: That’s Gotta Hurt segment from Episode 57

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Note: A modified version of this post appears as my sports medicine column in the September 27, 2012 issue of The Post and Courier.