What is a shoulder fracture?
A shoulder fracture can occur from falls onto the shoulder, contact sports, motor vehicle accidents, and more. The shoulder consists of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the clavicle (collarbone). Shoulder fractures can involve any of these bones. The different kinds of shoulder fractures include the following:
- Clavicle Fractures – The most common shoulder fracture, most commonly the result of a fall.
- Proximal Humerus Fractures – The most common shoulder fracture in patients 65 or older.
- Scapula Fractures – The least common shoulder fracture, it usually results from high-impact trauma, such as a motor vehicle accident or significant fall.
Additionally, the severity of shoulder fractures also varies with whether the injury is displaced or non-displaced. Displaced means the ends of the broken bone do not align, while non-displaced means that they do. Because nearly 8 out of 10 percent of fractures are non-displaced, most shoulder fractures can be treated through non-surgical methods and achieve a positive, long-term clinical outcome. The remaining 20 percent of injuries may require surgical intervention to address displaced injuries and restore normal function. Some fractures call for surgery because they present the risk of arthritis if left untreated, they are unlikely to heal, and/or they may heal in the wrong position if left unaddressed surgically.
Sometimes, the rotator cuff muscles experience injury or tearing at the time of the fracture, which can lead to a more complicated treatment.
What are the symptoms of a shoulder fracture?
- Pain in shoulder
- “Bump” or visible deformity at the fracture site (clavicle fractures)
- Discoloration at upper arm
- Pain with any arm movement
How is a shoulder fracture treated?
Most non-displaced fractures do not require surgery and can heal through immobilization using a sling. This allows for the fracture to heal without risk of dislodging any bone fragments resulting from the injury.
Your doctor will use X-rays to evaluate healing before permitting motion exercises. Motion exercises are critically important to prevent stiffness in the shoulder and maintain range of motion. Your doctor will provide you with motion exercises aimed at maintaining the flexibility of your elbow, wrist, and fingers, as well as your shoulder once your injury heals. Moving the arm too soon before your injury fully heals may delay recovery.
Surgery may be necessary to address displaced fractures by bringing bone fragments together and fixing them with wires, pins, plates or screws. This is known as open reduction and internal fixation.
If the ball portion of your upper arm is broken, split, or crushed, you may need a shoulder replacement.
After surgery on your shoulder fracture, your recovery will focus on pain management and rehabilitation. Your doctor may recommend the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, or in more severe cases of pain, short-term prescriptions such as opioids to relieve symptoms. You will also receive a sling to stabilize the shoulder as it heals.
Your doctor will also recommend that you begin physical therapy to restore shoulder movement and strength. Physical therapy often begins with motion exercises, followed by a regimen that gradually incorporates strength exercises as your injury heals.
Schedule Your Consultation at the Hand Center of Louisiana
If you have experienced an injury that you believe is a shoulder fracture, contact us today to schedule a consultation with one of our highly trained physicians. They can effectively diagnose your condition and determine the best course of treatment for you.