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Anthony Richardson’s grade 3 AC joint tear: What surgery would mean for the Colts’ rookie quarterback

A deep dive into what a grade 3 AC joint tear means and the journey ahead for Anthony Richardson’s recovery.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts community held its breath as rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson was led off the field with trainers. Later, we learned that Richardson sustained a grade 3 AC joint tear — a significant injury for a quarterback. Given today's update that the Colts are seriously considering season-ending surgery, let’s unpack the nature of this injury and what it could mean for Richardson’s future with the Colts.

What is a Grade 3 AC Joint Tear?

The AC (acromioclavicular) joint is where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the scapula (shoulder blade). In layman’s terms, it’s the bony bump you feel on top of your shoulder. A grade 3 tear, the most severe of AC joint sprains, involves a complete tear of the ligaments that stabilize this joint. Thankfully, our sources confirmed that Richardson’s labrum remains intact, simplifying recovery.

Procedure and Recovery:

Although non-operative treatment can sometimes suffice for a grade 3 AC joint tear, many athletes opt for surgery to ensure optimal strength and function. The surgical procedure usually involves placing anchors to pull and hold the clavicle down, ensuring it heals in the correct position.

Richardson must wear a sling post-surgery for several weeks, limiting movement to aid healing. The first phase of recovery focuses on pain management and reducing inflammation. During this time, it’s crucial to maintain the range of motion in the elbow and wrist.

As healing progresses, Richardson will work closely with the physical therapists to restore the range of motion in his shoulder, followed by strengthening exercises. This is where the real challenge lies. Quarterbacks, in particular, need to rebuild strength and flexibility, ensuring their throwing arm is as powerful and accurate as before.

Rehabilitation Time Projection:

While every athlete’s body reacts differently, the general recovery timeline for a grade 3 AC joint tear surgical repair varies between 3 to 6 months. Given Richardson’s age, physical condition, and the Colts’ access to medical resources, we’re optimistic about his chances of returning to the field in top shape for next season.

Outlook for a Full Recovery:

The good news? Many athletes have returned from grade 3 AC joint tears to their pre-injury performance levels.

Drew Brees is one of the most notable quarterbacks to suffer a significant AC joint injury and return successfully. Brees suffered a 360-degree labrum tear and damage to his rotator cuff in his right (throwing) shoulder in 2005 when he was with the San Diego Chargers. Although it wasn’t solely an AC joint injury, the severity of his shoulder injury and the uncertainty surrounding his future makes his subsequent recovery and career trajectory all the more impressive.

After the injury, Brees joined the New Orleans Saints, leading them to a Super Bowl victory in 2009. He continued to play at an elite level for many more years before retiring after the 2020 season.

Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers also dealt with AC joint injuries during his career. The exact grade was not always disclosed, but Roethlisberger demonstrated resilience in returning from various injuries throughout his career.

Richardson’s youth, dedication, and support from the Colts’ organization will play significant roles in his recovery.

As Colts fans, seeing a promising rookie like Anthony Richardson sidelined is hard. But rest assured, with modern medical advancements and a dedicated team behind him, Richardson has a favorable outlook. We look forward to seeing AR5 back in action, leading the Colts to victory again.