What Is a Clavicle Fracture?
A fracture is a term used to describe a broken bone. The clavicle (collarbone) runs along the top of the chest. It is the uppermost bone before the cervical (neck) vertebrae and skull—and, together with the humerus (upper arm bone) and scapula (shoulder blade), makes up the shoulder joint.
A clavicle fracture is a common injury. Between 2 and 5 percent of adults will experience one in their lifetimes, and that number is even higher in children.
Clavicle fractures are often the result of a direct blow to the shoulder. The most common reason for injury is a direct fall on the shoulder. Sports injuries, such as a bad tackle or shoulder to shoulder injury, can also cause a clavicle fracture. Infants can even sustain a collarbone fracture during birth.
Symptoms of a clavicle fracture include:
- Significant pain over the clavicle
- A bulge at the fracture line
- A crackling or grinding noise when the arm is lifted
- Bruising at the injury site
- Inability to move the shoulder
- Pain that increases with movement of the shoulder
- Sagging of the injured shoulder
- Swelling at the injury site
Because a clavicle fracture often causes an obvious deformity, a physical exam and medical history are sometimes all a doctor needs to make a diagnosis. X-rays, however, are almost always necessary to confirm the diagnosis by showing the presence and location of the fracture. X-rays will also will indicate the break’s severity and help guide treatment.
Surgery isn’t necessary if the two ends of the fractured bone have not significantly moved out of alignment. In such cases, the arm is immobilized to facilitate healing. Medication can be used to control pain, and physical therapy will likely be necessary to strengthen the muscles around the break and return full range of motion to the shoulder as the clavicle heals. Patients will need to remain out of impact related sports until the clavicle is fully healed.
If the clavicle is badly broken in more than one place or if the broken ends are severely shifted, surgery may be necessary. The most common surgical technique to repair a broken collarbone is open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF). Surgeons will realign the broken parts of the bone and then insert plates, screws or pins to hold the bone in place while it heals. Surgery is generally extremely safe, can accelerate recovery in bad fractures, and can allow for earlier return to high level activities.
Medication to control pain and physical therapy will both likely be a part of the recovery process after surgery. Whether the fracture is repaired surgically or nonsurgically, most people can return to normal activity within three months of the injury.
If you are seeking treatment for a clavicle fracture, schedule an appointment with one of our specialists today.
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