Commonly referred to as the collarbone, the clavicle connects your sternum or breastbone to your shoulder. Usually a broken collarbone involves some sort of trauma. This can include falling down, being hit in the shoulder or being in an automobile accident. Breaks usually occur in the middle section of the bone.
A broken collarbone is a common injury among children and athletes. The force of delivery of an infant passing through the birth canal is a risk for fracture. A child who experiences a direct blow or fall is at increased risk since the bones are not fully hardened until 20 years of age. An athlete who falls on outstretched arms is also at increased risk since the force of the fall is transmitted through the elbow and shoulder to the collarbone. Occasionally, a direct blow to the collarbone causes fracture in a sport like football, hockey or lacrosse.
Signs of a broken collarbone include:
- Sometimes a crack is heard at the time of injury.
- Pain and swelling at area of break with a deformity or “bump” over the fracture site.
- Difficulty moving the arm and shoulder because of pain.
- A sagging shoulder (down and forward).
A break is usually obvious, however the orthopedist will make sure that all blood vessels and nerves are intact. The severity and site of fracture can be determined with X-ray.
The collarbone heals well after break and surgery is rarely required. However to aid in the healing process, the area should be immobilized with a sling from anywhere to 3-8 weeks, depending on the age of the patient. Tylenol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, like aspirin or ibuprofen may be taken to reduce pain. Depending on the location of the break the doctor may apply a figure-of-eight strap to maintain position.
A large bump will develop at the site of the break as part of the healing process but will usually disappear with time however a small bump may remain. Strength and Range of motion exercises should be started as soon as the pain subsides, but a complete return to sport activities should not occur until full shoulder strength returns.