A clavicle fracture is also known as a broken collarbone. The clavicle is a long bone and most breaks occur in the middle of it; in some cases, the bone will break where it attaches at the ribcage or shoulder blade.
The clavicle (collarbone) is between the ribcage and the shoulder blade. It is part of your shoulder and connects the ribcage to the arm. The clavicle lies above important nerves and blood vessels; but these vital structures are rarely injured when the clavicle breaks.
A fractured clavicle is usually caused by a direct impact to the shoulder, which can happen during a fall on the shoulder or a car accident. Rarely, a fall onto an outstretched arm can also cause a clavicle fracture.
A fractured clavicle is sometimes a medical emergency so call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room (OrthoIndy Trauma physicians are at St.Vincent Indianapolis Level I Trauma Center).
Symptoms of a clavicle fracture
- Extreme pain in the shoulder area
- Difficulty moving your arm
- Sagging shoulder
- Inability to lift your arm
- A grinding sensation if an attempt is made to raise your arm
- A deformity or bump over the break
- Swelling or tenderness over the collarbone
Your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, ask questions about the injury and how it occurred, and conduct a physical examination. An X-ray can confirm the diagnosis.
Broken collarbone treatment
Often, fractures can heal without surgery if the broken ends of the bones have not shifted too far out a place and still line up correctly. A simple arm sling or wrap is usually used for comfort immediately after the break. Pain medication and physical therapy will also play a part in the recovery process.
You may need surgery for a fractured clavicle if the bones are out of place or shortened at the break. Surgery can align the bones and hold them in place while they heal. The two ends of the bone are held in correct alignment after surgery with either plate and screws (more common) or a rod.
Broken collarbone recovery
Whether treatment involves surgery or not, it can take several months for a collarbone to heal. Most people return to regular activities (except maybe direct impact sports like football) within three months of their injury.
Learn more about trauma care at OrthoIndy.
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