What is a clavicle fracture?
Clavicle fractures occur commonly in people of all ages. While most fractures occur at the shaft, or the middle of the bone, they sometimes occur where the bone attaches to the shoulder blade or ribcage. Clavicle fractures also vary in nature and severity. The bone may slightly crack or it may break into many pieces, known as a comminuted fracture. The broken pieces of bone may remain correctly aligned after a break, or they may move out of place, known as a displaced fracture.
What causes a clavicle fracture?
Clavicle fractures often occur from direct trauma, which can happen from a direct fall onto the shoulder, a collision, or falling onto an outstretched hand.
What are the symptoms of clavicle fractures?
Clavicle fractures are often very painful and may make arm movement difficult. Other symptoms may include the following:
- Swelling, tenderness, or bruising over the collarbone
- A visible bump where the break occurred
- Significant pain preventing arm movement
- Visible sagging (downward and forward) of the shoulder
- A grinding sensation in the shoulder when lifting the arm
How are clavicle fractures evaluated?
To evaluate your condition, your doctor will perform a physical examination. In most cases, a clavicle fracture results in a visible bump, or deformity, where the fracture occurred. Pressure applied to this site will cause pain.
Your doctor will also test to ensure that no blood vessels or nerves were damaged when the fracture occurred. Additionally, your doctor will order an x-ray to evaluate the location and severity of the injury. In some cases, your doctor may also order a computerized tomography (CT) scan, which provides a more detailed, 3-dimensional view of the injury site.
How are clavicle fractures treated?
While most broken collarbones can heal without surgery, it depends on the nature and severity of your injury. In most cases, your doctor may recommend non-surgical treatment options if the broken ends of your bone remain aligned.
Nonsurgical treatments may include the following:
- Arm sling – Your doctor may recommend that you wear an arm sling, which provides immediate comfort and support for your arm and shoulder, while keeping both in place as your injury heals.
- Anti-inflammatory medications: Your doctor may recommend you take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling.
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy exercises help maintain your arm’s range of motion and prevent stiffness.
- Follow-up visits – Your doctor will need to see you periodically to evaluate your injury until it heals. Your doctor will take x-rays and perform a physical examination to ensure the bone is healing in the proper position.
If your injury resulted in a displaced fracture, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery often involves realigning the broken pieces of bone and preventing them from moving until the fracture heals.
- Open reduction and internal fixation – The most common procedure for clavicle fractures, this involves repositioning the bone fragments (reduce) into their normal alignment. These pieces are then secured with metal plates and screws, or pins and screws.
- Pain Management – After surgery, your doctor may recommend the use of non-prescription anti-inflammatory medications. If you experience severe pain, however, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications, such as an opioid, for a short period.
- Rehabilitation – Your doctor will also recommend that you begin physical therapy to restore movement and strengthen your shoulder after surgery. Therapy programs often start with motion exercises, followed exercises focused on gradually building strength as your injury heals.
Schedule Your Appointment at the Hand Center of Louisiana
If you believe you have experienced a clavicle fracture, contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our highly trained physicians, who can evaluate your condition and determine the best treatment path for you.