A broken collarbone, also known as a clavicle fracture, is very common among people of all ages. This fracture often occurs from falling and landing directly on your shoulder either from a simple fall, or activities such as snowboarding, skiing, or high-impact sports.
The collarbone, or clavicle, is located between the shoulder blade and the rib cage, and it connects the arm to the body. It also lies above various nerves and blood vessels, but these are generally unharmed when a clavicle fracture occurs. The clavicle is a long bone which frequently breaks in the middle. However, the bone may break closer to where it attaches to the shoulder blade or rib cage.
During your evaluation with Dr. Hackett in Vail, Colorado, he will examine the fracture and ask you how the injury happened. Generally, there is a visible deformity, or “bump” where the fracture occurred, which makes for a simple diagnosis. He may still order an X-ray to clearly see the precise location and severity of the fracture, and rule out any additional injuries that could have occurred.
You may have a clavicle fracture, or broken collarbone if you are experiencing any of these symptoms:
- Moderate to severe pain of the collarbone
- Inability to lift or move arm
- Sagging shoulderGrinding sensation when lifting the arm
- Bruising, swelling, and tenderness of the collarbone
Depending on the severity and location of your clavicle fracture, treatment options may vary. Dr. Hackett will provide a recommendation on the best treatment based on your condition and lifestyle. There are effective non-surgical and surgical methods of treating a broken collarbone.
Broken collarbones may be healed without surgery if the ends of the broken bone line up correctly and have not shifted out of place. Some non-surgical treatment options may include:
- Arm Sling – A simple arm sling or wrap may be used to provide immediate comfort for the fracture. The sling helps support your arm and keep your shoulder in a stable position while the clavicle bone heals. Pain medication may be prescribed to help alleviate discomfort during the healing process. Unfortunately in some cases, the fracture may shift out of place before it heals (also known as malunion), so it’s important to schedule regular follow-up appointments with Dr. Hackett to ensure optimal recovery.
- Physical Therapy – You may lose muscle strength in your shoulder while wearing the arm sling. Once the clavicle bone begins to heal, and the pain reduces, your physical therapist may begin gentle elbow and shoulder exercises to prevent stiffness and weakness. Further rehabilitation programs will be prescribed after your bone has healed.
If the ends of the broken collarbone are shifted or out of place, Dr. Hackett may recommend surgery to help realign the bones and hold it in the correct position until it heals.
- Plates and Screws – During this surgery, the bone fragments of the collarbone are repositioned to their proper alignment. These bone fragments are then held in place with either surgical screws and/or a metal plate to the outer surface of the collarbone. After surgery, you may feel the plate through the skin since there is not a lot of fat around the collarbone. Plates and screws are not generally removed unless it causes discomfort, then it can be removed after the collarbone has completely healed.
- Pins – Pins are also a useful tool to hold the fractured bone in its correct position, similar to plates and screws. Pin placement is done through small incisions but often irritate the skin. After this surgery, pins are usually removed once the clavicle fracture has completely healed.
Whether you opt for a non-surgical or surgical treatment, recovery from a collarbone fracture can take several months or longer. Dr. Hackett will inform you when your injury is stable enough to return to regular simple tasks. In any case of a broken collarbone, rehabilitation is necessary to restore full range of motion and strength in your shoulder and elbow.Specific exercises and a home therapy plan may be suggested to help regain strength and movement in the shoulder. Therapy programs generally begin with gentle motion exercises, and gradually increase as your fracture heals. Although it may be a slow process, physical therapy is a critical factor in returning to all of your favorite activities. Once your broken collarbone completely heals and you’ve undergone a positive rehabilitation program, Dr. Hackett will evaluate your progress and determine if you can safely return to your favorite sports and hobbies.
Specific exercises and a home therapy plan may be suggested to help regain strength and movement in the shoulder. Therapy programs generally begin with gentle motion exercises, and gradually increase as your fracture heals. Although it may be a slow process, physical therapy is a critical factor in returning to all of your favorite activities. Once your broken collarbone completely heals and you’ve undergone a positive rehabilitation program, Dr. Hackett will evaluate your progress and determine if you can safely return to your favorite sports and hobbies.