Clavicle Fracture | Broken Collar Bone

A clavicle fracture is a fairly common fracture that occurs in the collarbone, one of the main bones in the shoulder. This type of fracture can be incredibly painful, and make it difficult to move your arm. 

Clavicle Fracture Anatomy

The clavicle, more commonly known as the collarbone, is the bone that connects your arm to the rest of your body. It is located between the sternum, the long, flat bone in the chest that runs perpendicular to the rib-cage, and the shoulder blade.

A clavicle fracture will typically occur in the middle, or shaft of the bone. Occasionally, a break will occur where the bone connects to the scapula (shoulder blade) or to the sternum, but these breaks are far less common.

Clavicle Fracture Causes

Direct impact or trauma to the shoulder area is the most common cause of a clavicle fracture. 

A clavicle fracture can occur in a fall on the shoulder, for instance, or during a car crash, where enough pressure is placed on the bone to cause it to snap. A fall onto your outstretched arm can also cause damage to the clavicle, and babies can experience a clavicle fracture during passage through the birth canal. 

Clavicle Fracture Symptoms

One of the most common symptoms of a clavicle fracture is shoulder pain, and difficulty moving the arm. Other common symptoms include:

  • Inability to lift arm due to pain
  • Bruising, swelling, or tenderness over the collarbone
  • A grinding sensation when raising the arm
  • A deformity or a “bump” over the collarbone 
  • Sagging of the shoulder downward and forward 

Clavicle Fracture Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask questions about how the injury occurred, as well as the symptoms you are experiencing. A gentle physical examination will likely be performed. 

If there is a clavicle fracture, it is common for bone fragments to push at the underside of the skin and create a bump over the break. Gentle pressure in this area will cause pain. Because the clavicle is located in a cluster of important nerves and blood vessels, your doctor will likely also conduct several tests to ensure that none of those are damaged.

To confirm a diagnosis, your doctor will probably order an X-ray of the shoulder. This will help them assess the exact location of the break as well as its severity. 

If your clavicle was fractured in a car accident, for instance, there is a possibility of other bone fractures. If you experienced an accident of this kind, your doctor may order a CT scan to check for other possible fractures and breaks. 

Clavicle Fracture Treatment

If the two broken ends of the bone are not moved too drastically out of place, nonsurgical treatment is usually the treatment of choice. This accounts for the vast majority of clavicle fractures. Nonsurgical treatments include:

  • Arm support. An arm sling can be used to hold the arm and shoulder in place while the fracture heals.
  • Medication. Over the counter medications like acetaminophen can be used to manage pain while the fracture heals.
  • Physical therapy. Continuing arm motion is the key to preventing stiffness from developing in the arm. 

It is possible for the fracture to heal incorrectly, with the two ends of the bones out of place. This is known as a “malunion”. The bump that develops over the break may become permanent in this case. This is why it is important to follow up with your doctor during treatment.

If the two broken ends of the bone shifted dramatically out of place at the time the fracture occurred, surgery may be the best option. This will generally involve putting the two ends of the bone back together and ensuring they can’t move out of place again during recovery. Some of the most common methods of surgical treatment are:

  • Plates and screws. The two ends of the bone fragments will be realigned and held in place with metal plates and surgical screws affixed to the outer surface of the bone. This hardware does not typically cause any discomfort and is rarely removed after the fracture is healed. However, if the hardware does cause any pain or discomfort, they can be removed after the fracture heals. 
  • Pins or screws. In conjunction with surgical screws, surgical pins can also be used to hold the bones in place. Unlike plates, these do cause irritation in the skin and are usually removed once the fracture is healed.

Clavicle Fracture Recovery

Whether the treatment for your clavicle fracture was surgical or nonsurgical, it can take several months for the collarbone to heal completely. Healing will likely take longer if you smoke or use tobacco products. 

The majority of people are able to return to normal activities within three months of their injury. Placing too much stress on the shoulder with heavy lifting or repeated overhead movement may cause the fractured ends of the bones to move, or surgical hardware to break. Your doctor will be able to advise you when it is safe to return to usual activities.

At SPORT, we will identify the source of your pain and then utilize state-of-the-art therapeutic techniques that focus on restoring your range of motion.

Depending on the specific condition and its severity, these treatment options may include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, slings and supports, cortisone shots, or shoulder or elbow surgery.

If you have an acute or chronic shoulder or elbow injury that needs medical attention, call SPORT at (469) 200-28322 to arrange a consultation or you can request one online. Hurt today? We can arrange a same-day urgent care visit to ensure you get fast, effective relief.

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