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In a healthy shoulder, ligaments hold the collarbone and shoulder blade together the way bungee cords hold luggage to the top of a station wagon. Those connectors can tear, however, especially when the shoulder takes a direct hit. Ligament damage allows the collarbone to come bulging off, or separating, from the shoulder. This injury should not be confused with a dislocated shoulder, where the top of the upper arm pops out of its socket.

In most instances, rest and wearing an arm sling is enough to allow the injury to heal. Soon after the injury happens, ice is often used to control swelling and ease pain. Patients then undergo exercises to regain the motion in their shoulder. In severe cases, surgery is needed to repair the damaged ligaments to put the joint back together again.


Tell-tale signs of shoulder separation are pain, tenderness, and sometimes, a bulge at the top of the shoulder where the wayward collarbone has ended up. Doctors sometimes will take X-rays of a patient holding a small weight, so the separation can be a bit easier to see as the muscles are stretched.

On Oct. 24, the Bears announced that McNown didn't injure his rotator cuff. The rotator cuff is formed by a group of tendons and muscles that work to hold the shoulder together.


The upper-arm bone is shaped like a ball and is larger than the socket it fits against. So the shoulder is built to be the most moveable large joint in the body. And McNown certainly takes full advantage of it as a quarterback, passing for 290 yards in the Bears' season opener against the Minnesota Vikings. But the downside of all that mobility is a vulnerability to injury. It takes a lot of muscles, ligaments, and tendons to hold the shoulder together, and slamming them into the ground causes pain and loss of the overall performance of the shoulder. While shoulder pads and using the correct technique while falling can help, a sudden injury such as McNown's on a turf, such as this would be very difficult to prevent.

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