Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin left Sunday’s game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury, and early reports sounded encouraging. It was Martin who indicated X-rays on his left shoulder were fine, and that his shoulder was not separated.
But X-rays only tell the bony part of the story. Later media reports indicated Martin suffered a torn labrum, damage to the fibrocartilaginous ring that adds depth and stability to an otherwise shallow and inherently unstable shoulder joint. Depending on the location and extent of the damage to the labrum, the injury can range from something an athlete can play through with intermittent discomfort to something that requires surgery and cuts a season short.
Labral tears are most often associated with throwing athletes, as the repetitive motion of bringing the arm overhead wears down the tissue with time. Acute labral tears like the one Martin apparently suffered are more often the result of episodes where the shoulder is jammed during a hard fall or when contact forces the shoulder to either sublux (slip quickly out of place but pop back in) or completely dislocate, resulting in damage to the surrounding tissue.
Ultimately, the degree of damage and loss of function will determine whether the player can continue to play. At this point, it sounds as if that has not been determined. Presuming Martin undergoes a trial of conservative rehab to see how his shoulder progresses, it could be a matter of weeks before the team arrives at a final decision.