Clavicle Fracture

The collarbone is also called the clavicle. A fracture to this bone is a common injury that occurs in people of all ages. Most breaks to the clavicle occur in the middle portion. The clavicle is located between the ribcage and the shoulder blade. This structure connects the arm to the trunk of the body and lies above several important blood vessels and nerves. These vital body components do not usually become injured with a clavicle fracture.

What causes clavicle fractures?
The collarbone gets broken when there is a direct blow to the shoulder. This can occur during a fall onto the shoulder or during a motor vehicle accident. A fall onto an outstretched arm can also lead to a fracture of the clavicle. Many infants are born with a fracture to the collarbone – an injury that occurs during a traumatic birth.

What are the symptoms of a clavicle fracture?
If you sustain a clavicle fracture, it will most likely be very painful and hard to move your arm. Other symptoms include:

  • Shoulder sagging downward and forward
  • A deformity or “bump” over the area of the break
  • Inability to lift the arm without pain
  • Bruising, swelling, or tenderness over the clavicle
  • A grinding sensation when the arm is raised up

How is a clavicle fracture treated?
With some breaks, the ends of the bone have not shifted out of place and line up correctly. These types of fractures do not require surgery, and the orthopedic specialist can treat them with conservative measures. These include the use of an arm support or sling (worn to keep the arm in proper position while the bone heals), mild pain medication, and physical therapy. Therapy is done to increase muscle strength in your shoulder and to prevent stiffness and weakness of the muscles.

The orthopedic specialist will recommend surgery if the bones are displaced (out of place) and do not line up correctly. During the procedure, the bone fragments are situated into their normal alignment and held that way with special screws and plates that are attached to the outer surface of the bone. These structures are not removed until after the bone has healed. Some surgeons use pins to hold the fracture in proper position once the bone ends are put back in alignment.

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