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Bruce Miller injury: Breaking down his fractured scapula

Bruce Miller suffered a broken scapula following the Week 15 win over Tampa Bay. We look at the nature and extent of his injury and what likely caused the fracture.

Stacy Revere

Following the statement of Jim Harbaugh, reports emerged that fullback Bruce Miller suffered a broken scapula (shoulder blade). Despite some initial twitter reports of 4 to 6 week recovery, this appears to be a season ending injury.

Bones heal relatively fast. Nearly all broken bones heal completely within 4 to 6 weeks. The same is true for a scapula fracture. The scapula is not a bone to be cast, but it must be immobilized. Surgery is rarely needed and an immobilization device (sling) usually does the trick.

After Miller left the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he commented "We'll take a closer look at it, but it's just a stinger." Needless to say, I had anticipated writing about the nature of stingers. Evidently, Miller did not think it was serious. In fact, he indicated he had felt stingers before and was certain of the diagnosis. When stingers occur, doctors will x-ray the chest and back to rule out a broken scapula, or fractures to the clavical, cervical rib and/or cervical spine. Unfortunately, the image indeed confirmed a broken scapula. Because fractures to the scapula are so rare, it surprised me. It is indeed a serious injury.

After review of the play, you can see Miller is hit in the shoulder and subsequently the face mask. James Brady made a GIF of the play if you want to take a look. Scapula injuries are rare, because it is protected by the chest and surrounded by muscles. People usually believe the injury would occur from behind, but scapula fractures (albeit rare) are usually the result of a forceful impact to the chest. If a person suffers a broken scapula, odds are it is a pretty severe chest injury.

The scapula connects your clavical (collarbone) to your humerus (upper arm), and it attaches to over a dozen muscles, including the largest one in your chest. If the chest muscles suffer enough trauma, the scapula will fracture. The purpose of the bone is to hold the shoulder in place. What concerns me about Miller is the temporary loss of feeling (paralysis) of his arm, which indicates there is some sort of nerve damage. If the shoulder is driven downward and the head in the opposite direction, it can stretch or otherwise injure the nerve roots. It is most likely to occur, but it is temporary.

Only an electromyogram (EMG) can show for certain nerve root injury. In rare cases, it can cause permanent damage. However, Harbaugh indicated it was an injury from which Miller will likely recover.

Recovery for a broken scapula can take up to a year, but I suspect Miller will be back in approximately six months. In any event, I cannot see him returning this season. He will be immobilized for six weeks and it is extremely improbable Miller would have instant range of motion and muscle fluidity. This injury really bummed me out. At the same time, it will be interesting to see if Kap can look to another checkdown pass receiver. I am hoping to see combos of Gore and Kendall Hunter / LaMichael James.