Shoulder Fractures & Treatment

Shoulder Fracture

The shoulder is made up of three bones – the humerus (upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade) and the clavicle (collar bone). When any one of these 3 bones break it is considered a shoulder fracture. Shoulder fractures can occur many different ways, but some of the most common mechanisms include falls or collisions where the shoulder is impacted directly or when the arm is used to brace a fall.

Shoulder fracture signs and symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and discoloration
  • A visibly deformed shoulder
  • Limited range of motion or inability to move the joint

A fracture to any of the 3 bones in the shoulder can also cause numbness, tingling, or weakness further down the affected arm or up into the neck. Sometimes, when the nerves in this area are affected, it can cause spasms of the muscle which can pull on the fractured bones and increase your pain. Here at Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle, we offer specialized treatment options to help you recover from all different types of shoulder fractures.

Collar Bone

Your clavicle, or collar bone, is a commonly injured bone of the shoulder. This type of fracture is seen most in children and young adults. The majority of clavicle fractures are caused by a fall or direct impact, often as a result of sports injuries or car accidents. This can be a very painful injury, and when broken, your collar bone may even look bent out of shape. When the collar bone is broken, movement of the arm on that side can worsen the pain intensely and may result in a grinding sensation. Many will also report difficulty raising their arm.

It is important to seek care when concerned about a fractured clavicle because the bone lies directly over the lungs as well as several important nerves and blood vessels, and it is necessary to rule out damage to any of these important surrounding areas. Additionally, the clavicle is an essential bone that stabilizes the shoulder during movement and contributes to the large range of motion we have in our shoulders. When improperly diagnosed or treated, fractures of the clavicle can have significant effects on a person’s range of motion and ability to return to the level of activity they had before.

Upper Arm Bone

Your humerus, or upper arm bone, is one of the long bones of the body and it runs from your shoulder joint to your elbow joint. We refer to the types of fractures to this bone based on where the break takes place on the bone. This is important because depending on where the fracture takes place, it can mean different things regarding damage to surrounding structures, functional impact, treatment options and recovery time.
Arm bone fractures near the shoulder socket are most common in the elderly population, in fact, they are the 3rd most common fracture in elderly patients. These fractures are also 3-4 times more common in elderly females, who are at increased risk due to their lower bone density. Nearly 90% of these fractures are due to falls.

Fractures to the middle portion of the upper arm bone is most common in young-middle aged men who experience accidents during physical activity or while driving, as well as in elderly women with lower bone density who fall and land on an outstretched arm.

Seeking the proper treatment for upper arm bone fractures is important because there are important nerves that run through the shoulder and upper arm region that can be damaged when fractured. When not repaired, this can result in muscle weakness and loss of sensation to both the shoulder and arm. Proper assessment is also important to ensure that the surrounding areas of the shoulder joint are not damaged as well.

Shoulder Blade

Your scapula, more commonly referred to as the shoulder blade, is the flat triangular bone on your upper back. This area is important because it is the main connection point between your arm and your upper body. Fractures in this area only account for 3-5% of all shoulder fractures and typically requires very large forces or trauma. While this bone is less commonly fractured when compared to the other bones in the shoulder, it is an important fracture to recognize because 10-20% of these fractures go on to require surgical repair to ensure proper healing. Without proper repair, scar tissue formation and improper alignment and result in long-term pain and significant loss of range of motion and function of the shoulder and arm.

Shoulder Fracture Treatment

The physicians at OSS are well versed in the assessment of all types of shoulder fractures, from the mildest to the most severe. At your visit, they will assess your injury using a combination of careful physical examination as well as imaging, such as x-ray. Depending on the fracture type and location, there are multiple types of repair options. These range from non-surgical options using immobilizing braces and slings, to surgical options for increased stability needs. All of our providers are excellent at reviewing the available options with you and making sure you understand the pros and cons of each.

Regardless of the treatment you select, shoulder rehabilitation with physical and occupational therapy is an equally important part of recovery. Our therapists will help you regain mobility in your shoulder joint after your injury and strengthen the surrounding area to prevent future injury.

If you believe you may have suffered a shoulder fracture, Orthopedic Specialists of Seattle is here to help.