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All You Need To Know About Clavicle Fractures

Your clavicle, or “collarbone”, plays an important role in the positioning and function of your arm. It is the main connection of your shoulder girdle to the rest of your body. Because of the collarbone’s length and vulnerable location lying just under the skin of the shoulder, it is often at risk for injury. Clavicle fractures are some of the most common fractures treated by orthopaedic doctors. Of note, the clavicle is the last bone in the body to stop growing – often at up to 25 years of age. As a result of this prolonged growth, the clavicle has excellent healing potential, and most clavicle fractures can be treated non-operatively by simply allowing the bones to mend. However, there are some types of clavicle fractures that are best treated surgically. The clavicle is critical in providing length and contour to the shoulder which allows muscles around the shoulder girdle to function effectively. Fractures that cause significant shortening or mal-alignment of the clavicle can cause weakness in the shoulder or risk of “nonunion” or incomplete healing of the fracture leading to chronic pain.

Risk Factors for Clavicle Fractures

  • Falls – either directly on the shoulder or onto an outstretched hand attempting to “break the fall.”
  • Direct blow – any forceful blow to the clavicle (i.e. – falling object, lacrosse stick) can cause a fracture due to the little muscle or soft tissue protection to the bone.
  • Osteoporosis, or low bone quality

Symptoms of Clavicle Fractures

  • Difficulty moving one or both arms. It may be impossible to raise the arm at all and attempts may cause a grinding or crackling noise.
  • There may be some pain emanating from the site of the break, even without moving.
  • A swollen bump above the site of the break. May be visible beneath skin.
  • Swelling and bruising of the clavicle.
  • A sagging or hanging shoulder.

Treatment of Clavicle Fractures

  • A clavicle fracture is treated differently dependent upon how severe the break is and where it is broken. The clavicle most often breaks cleanly in the middle. This type of fracture usually heals within 6-8 weeks and is treated by:
  • Sling to immobilize and support the arm during healing.
  • Pain medication to reduce any pain the person is experiencing.
  • Ice to limit swelling and help with the pain.
  • Physical therapy after healing or towards the end of healing to help regain full motion and strengthen surrounding muscles.
  • Surgery is reserved for patients with significant separation of the bone ends, shortening of the bone due to overlap of the fracture ends, and fractures creating multiple pieces. These types of injuries are at risk to heal in positions that limit full shoulder function, or are at risk of not healing which causes significant pain with attempts at using the arm.
  • If you have sustained a clavicle injury, it is best to seek consultation with a orthopaedic specialist to review the nature of the injury and determine the best course of treatment in order to maximize your outcome from this very common injury.

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