What we know and don't know about Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander's injury

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander (23) is carted off the field after being injured during the third  quarter of their game Sunday, October 3, 2021 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Green Bay Packers beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17.

NFL Network reporter Mike Garafolo tweeted Sunday that it's believed Green Bay Packers star cornerback Jaire Alexander suffered an AC joint injury, with more evaluation still to come. The Packers did not provide information on Alexander's condition after the team's 27-17 win over the Steelers on Sunday.

Alexander was hurt making a tackle on fourth down against Pittsburgh running back Najee Harris in the second half. The second-team All-Pro selection in 2020 was given medical attention and eventually carted to the locker room, where he was given a "questionable" status to return.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur confirmed to reporters Monday that the injury was a shoulder issue but offered no further insight, noting that the next update will likely come Wednesday. LaFleur did not set any timetable for Alexander and did not rule out the possibility that the injury would end Alexander's season.

An AC joint injury would be a favorable outcome relative to a broken collarbone, but it's tricky to pin down precise severity.

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The acromioclavicular joint ("AC" for short) connects the clavicle (collarbone) to the scapula (shoulder blade), and the tissue there allows the bones to move on each other.

The injury almost always comes in one of three varieties, with grade 1 representing minor damage, grade 2 a partial tear of the ligament and grade 3 a complete tear.

"Even past that grade 3, there's also an increased severity from there, depending on how displaced it is," said Dr. Demetrios Douros, an orthopaedic specialist at Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center.

"A grade 1 sprain is pretty stable outside of discomfort; it's pretty safe to play on it. Once you get into grade 2 and grade 3 injuries where there is structural damage, you do risk future injury."

Douros said the sprain of the joint is synonymous with a "separated shoulder." He considers it a common injury for athletes of contact sports, including hockey players, and he said it's a straightforward diagnosis, particularly for a grade 3 strain that causes the collar bone to rise and create a visible bump on the shoulder.

The majority of injuries at the AC joint don't require surgery; even the most severe can allow for a return to full activity with few restrictions. Players can play with the ailment (albeit probably with more difficulty if they're a quarterback). Surgery would be reserved for only the most severe of cases.

If the injury does require surgery, Douros said the rehab time is four to six months.

"Almost always, a sure course is to try rehab first," Douros said. "Even with a grade 3 injury, you're able to avoid surgery just by doing some physical therapy and getting the shoulder stronger and getting the pain to subside."

Douros pointed out that because the small joint is the only attachment of the upper extremity to the torso, the area sees a significant amount of stress from pushing, pulling and lifting.

Even without surgery, the timetable for return to athletic competition varies widely based on the breadth of severity.

Quarterback Kyler Murray of Arizona suffered an AC joint injury in 2020 and Tom Brady suffered one in 2017, but neither missed time.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

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