It’s been a tumultuous year for the future hall-of-fame quarterback. After losing his favorite receiver in the offseason, Rodgers has not been his dominant self this season. Injuries have compounded these struggles. Rodgers has been dealing with an avulsion fracture of his throwing thumb since week 5. An avulsion fracture in the thumb is rare, and the fact that he was playing through this is remarkable. Rodgers exited Sunday night’s game early with a rib/oblique injury. How does Aaron Rodgers rib injury potentially impact his rest-of-season outlook? First, we must understand how the ribs and obliques factor into throwing.
Rib and Oblique Anatomy
The ribs and obliques are highly involved in all human motions. Throwing, in particular, puts immense stress on each. Humans have 12 ribs. The ribs protect our vital organs and are an attachment point for several key muscles. The lungs are one of the main organs the ribs protect. With a rib fracture, an athlete risks puncturing a lung. This was a concern of Rodgers on Sunday night.
The ribs attach to the thoracic spine in the back at two joints called the Costotransverse and Costovertebral joints and attach to the sternum in the front at the Costochondral joint. The ribs must expand when we inhale and recoil when we exhale. Because of this vital function towards breathing, the ribs have a small amount of motion at the joints. With a rib injury, the expansion and recoil of the ribs that occurs with every breath are painful, often leading to shorter, more shallow breaths.
In addition to expansion and recoil, rib motion is directly linked to thoracic spine (upper and mid back) motion. When throwing, rotation is necessary at multiple joints, including the ankle, hips, spine, and shoulder. The thoracic spine is where most of our spinal rotation occurs, and this region of the spine must rotate up to 50° when throwing. When the thoracic spine rotates to the right (right-handed QB winding up), the right ribs rotate upward (posteriorly) slightly, and the left ribs rotate downward (anteriorly) slightly. When the thoracic spine rotates to the left (right-handed QB follow-through), the right ribs now rotate downward (anteriorly), and the left ribs rotate upward (posteriorly). Anatomically this is a lot to follow, so simply put, when a quarterback throws, the ribs have to move. If any injury to the ribs is present, this hurts!
Several key muscles that are involved in throwing attach to the ribs. The pec major and the latissimus dorsi (lat) muscles are the most notable. The pec major attaches to the front of the rib cage near the aforementioned costochondral joint. The lat muscle attaches to the ribs on the backside, the pelvis, the spine, and the scapula. Both muscle also attach to the humerus bone (upper arm bone), allowing them to move the shoulder and arm.
During the throwing motion, the lat and the pec major must stretch during the windup and contract violently during the follow-through. With a bone injury, when muscles that attach to that bone are stretched or when they contract, they pull on the bone. A muscle pulling on an injured bone hurts!
The obliques are two abdominal muscles (internal and external oblique) that help with the rotation of the torso and bracing of the abdominal region. During the throwing motion, the obliques help with windup and rotate the torso forward to create a powerful throw. Additionally, the obliques will contract when getting hit to protect the body from impact.
How Aaron Rodgers Rib injury may impact his game
As you can see, the anatomy of the ribs and obliques make them highly involved in throwing. With Aaron Rodger’s rib injury, he will not be 100% healthy. Throwing velocity is vital for a quarterback. Quarterbacks must put great velocity on the pass when throwing deep or fitting the ball in a tight window. Let’s go back to physics class for a minute to fully understand how a quarterback creates velocity on their throw.
V = Δs/ΔT (Velocity = change in displacement / change in time
For a quarterback, this means velocity = range of motion of the throw/how fast he can complete the throwing motion. Let’s plug our anatomy lesson from above into this equation.
Δs: Change in Displacement
As mentioned above, for a quarterback to complete a full throwing motion, the thoracic spine must rotate up to 50°. The more the thoracic spine rotates, the more the ribs must rotate. If the ribs are injured, this hurts. Pain inhibits motion. Therefore, if a quarterback’s ribs are injured, you may expect them not to rotate as much to generate power during the throw.
ΔT: Change in Time
Several muscle groups are involved with the rotational motion of throwing, and the obliques are a major player. To complete the throwing motion quickly, the obliques must contract rapidly during the windup and the follow-through. There are two oblique muscles on each side, the internal and the external. Each has opposing rotational functions. The internal obliques will rotate the trunk to the same side (referred to as ipsilateral motion), and the external obliques will rotate the trunk to the opposite side (referred to as contralateral motion). Therefore, let’s say Rodger’s right obliques are injured. When he winds up (right rotation), his internal oblique is rapidly contracting to turn his body right, when he follows through (left rotation), his external oblique is violently contracting to create power on the throw. Either way would hurt! Again, pain inhibits motion. A muscle strain also makes the muscle weaker. We may see a slower throwing motion when a quarterbacks oblique is injured.
aaron rodger rib injury performance expectations
On Tuesday, Rodger’s spoke on the Pat MacAfee show saying that imaging was clean, indicating no rib fracture. That said, he clearly has a rib injury, so all of the discussion above is still relevant. Rodgers says he will play against the Chicago Bears this week, but will he be himself?
If we use the velocity equation above and consider the anatomical and mechanical factors at play, we can expect Aaron Rodgers rib injury to impact his throwing power. This would mean fewer deep balls and difficulty fitting the ball into tight spaces. Rodger’s yards per attempt is already at his lowest since 2015 at just 6.8 YPA. Any less would mean a lot of dump-off passes to running backs, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
Rodger’s completion percentage is 64.8, which is not bad, but it also may take a hit this week. The follow-through of a throw is where accuracy happens. If this is painful, it may alter his accuracy a bit.
Aaron Rodgers rib injury fantasy outlook
Rodgers is already struggling this year compared to what we have grown to expect. A rib/oblique injury is now compounded on an already existing thumb injury. The best comparison at the moment is Justin Herbert, who injured his ribs in week 2. Herbert struggled considerably in the first game back, with a completion percentage of only 55.6, by far his lowest of the season, and only 13.6 fantasy points. Herbert bounced back the following week, giving Rodgers owners hope that this may only impact Aaron in the short term.
While Herbert’s fantasy output was only impacted for one week, a rib injury can be variable. This season we saw Alvin Kamara and James Conner miss multiple games with rib injuries. Additionally, it only takes one good hit to injure the ribs further!
What he does have going for him is that he is one of the most cerebral quarterbacks we have ever seen, and he is tough as nails. If any quarterback can play well through this injury, it’s Rodgers. Rodgers has not been a reliable fantasy quarterback this season, and his latest injury only worsens things.
For more information, be sure to check out the weekly Fantasy Injury Team Podcast!