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Clavicle (Collarbone) Fracture: Symptoms & Treatment

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

While healthy bones can withstand a lot, it doesn’t take much more than an awkward fall to result in a break or fracture. The collarbone, or clavicle, is as susceptible as any bone to fracturing in a fall, sports injury, or some other sort of trauma, such as a car accident. This is especially true in children and teenagers, as the collarbone doesn’t reach its full strength until around age 20. Risk of fracture also increases for older adults, along with the risk for osteoporosis. The good news is that most collarbone fractures heal with simple immobilization and R.I.C.E.

How do I know if I have broken my collarbone?

If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should consult with a health care provider for an evaluation and x-ray:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness
  • A bump on or around the collarbone
  • Pain that worsens when the shoulder moves
  • Grinding/crunching sounds when you try to raise your arm
  • Shoulder stiffness or immobility

At Houston Institute for Sports Medicine & Orthopedics, your provider will inspect the injured area for swelling and tenderness. An x-ray can be helpful in identifying the precise location of the break, as well as the type of break. The x-ray may reveal other injuries in the shoulder joint. In some cases, a CT scan may also be ordered.

How is a collarbone break treated?

When it comes to healing the collarbone, immobility is essential. An arm sling is usually enough to reduce motion and allow the collarbone to rejoin. This process can take anywhere from six to twelve weeks in an adult. In children, the process tends to happen twice as quickly.

An over-the-counter pain medication that reduces inflammation is typically the only medication needed. If pain is severe, the patient might receive a prescription pain medicine. Collarbone surgery may be necessary for severe breaks, including open and comminuted fractures. Surgery involves the placement of plates and screws or pins. Once the collarbone heals, physical therapy is helpful for restoring joint mobility, flexibility, and muscle strength.

Are there any complications to be aware of?

The majority of collarbone fractures heal without complications. In some patients, the bones may reunite poorly, causing a shortened bone. It’s typical for the collarbone to have a lump where the bones rejoin. However, this lump eventually disappears in most patients. If the fracture affects the joint where the collarbone connects to the shoulder blade or breastbone, then the patient may have an increased risk for developing osteoarthritis.

Have Collarbone Pain Evaluated

If you experience any of the symptoms discussed in this blog post, you should have an evaluation as soon as possible. See an urgent care provider near you. To schedule an appointment with a Houston orthopedic physician, call us at (713) 756-5546 or schedule online.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.