Clavicle Fractures Broken Collarbone

Overview

Clavicle fracture is also known as a broken collarbone. One of the main bones in the shoulder is your clavicle or collarbone. It connects your arm to your body. It accounts for nearly 5% of all adult fractures. Broken collarbones can result from a direct blow to the shoulder by falling directly onto the shoulder, when an outstretched arm puts enough pressure on the bone that it snaps, or even in a car accident. In babies, clavicle fractures can occur when passing through the mother’s birth canal. Clavicle fractures vary as an X-ray may reveal a slight crack or breaks into many pieces. It can be very painful and will make it challenging to move your arm altogether. A deformity or bump occasionally appears over the break and sagging of one’s shoulder downward and forward can also occur.

Many clavicle fractures can be treated by wearing a sling to stabilize the arm while the bone heals on its own. If the pieces of bone are significantly separated, surgery may be necessary to realign the collarbone. When you are seen by Dr. Stowell, he will ask you how the injury occurred and about your symptoms. He will carefully examine your shoulder and make sure that no nerves or blood vessels were damaged at the fracture site. An X-ray will allow Dr. Stowell to pinpoint the location of your fracture, and if other bones are broken, he may order a CT scan to help analyze the fracture in more detail.

AC Joint Diagram

Clavicle (collarbone) Diagram

 

Treatment

Without surgery, many broken collarbones can heal on their own. There may be a large bump over the fracture site, but it usually will get smaller over time. Nonsurgical treatment may include:

  1. An arm support like an arm sling is used to keep the arm and shoulder in position while the break heals.
  2. Acetaminophen can help relieve pain during the healing process.
  3. Physical therapy. Arm motion is important during recovery to prevent shoulder and elbow stiffness. It is not uncommon to lose strength after a broken collarbone, so as the bone heals and your pain decreases, Dr. Stowell may advise gentle shoulder exercises that will restore strength and gradually increase to more strenuous exercises once the injury has completely healed.
  4. Follow-up. Dr. Stowell may schedule you for multiple follow-up visits until your fracture heals. At these appointments, X-rays may be ordered to make sure that the bone is healing in good position. Once your bone has healed, you will be able to return to normal activity.

Surgical treatment may be advised if the broken ends of the bones have significantly shifted out of position. Dr. Stowell will surgically put the broken pieces of bone back into place, so that proper healing will occur. In an internal fixation surgical procedure, plates or pins and screws are used to reposition the bones into proper alignment. They are not routinely removed unless they cause significant discomfort after the fracture has healed. Pain after surgery is a normal part of the healing process. Non-prescription pain medication can relieve discomfort and will usually suffice. You are always welcome to discuss with Dr. Stowell any questions or risks associated with surgery that you might have.  

Physical therapy or a home therapy routine may be advised to help you return to normal activity while restoring movement and strength in your shoulder. With or without surgery, collarbone fractures usually take several months to heal. Most people will return to normal activities within 3 months of their injury.

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