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Orthopedic Surgery

A clavicle fracture is a break in the collarbone, one of the primary bones in the shoulder. This type of fracture is common, representing about 5 percent of all adult fractures. Clavicle fractures, which account for 8% to 15% of all juvenile fractures, are significantly frequent in children.

Causes of Clavicle Fracture

The most common cause of broken collarbones is a direct impact on the shoulder that breaks or snaps the clavicle. This can happen if one falls and lands on the shoulder or an outstretched arm. It can also happen due to an automobile accident.

Shoulder injuries can occur in contact sports like football and hockey as well as other activities like skiing or skating where falls typically occur at high speeds or on a downward trajectory.

Symptoms of a Clavicle Fracture

  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • A bump or raised area
  • Forward sagging of the shoulder
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Stiffness

Diagnosis of Clavicle Fracture

During the diagnosis of a clavicle fracture, the doctor will inquire about the patient’s symptoms and how the injury occurred. He/she will examine the shoulder, and likely ask the patient to try to move the arm and fingers.

In some cases, the bone may be bulging up under the skin, making the break in the patient’s bone visible. The doctor may want to examine the type of break to see if blood vessels or nerves are also injured.

To determine the exact position of the break, the extent of the bone ends’ movement, and the presence of more broken bones, the doctor may request an X-ray. A CT scan may also be ordered to look at the break in more detail.

Treatment of Clavicle Fracture

Treatment for clavicle fracture will be determined by the severity of the fracture. Both nonsurgical and surgical procedures may be recommended. It’s best for the patient and the doctor to thoroughly go over possible treatment options.

Conservative, non-surgical treatment

The following can be expected during nonsurgical treatment:

  • Ice: For the first few days, ice packs may be suggested by the doctor to help with the pain.
  • Physical therapy: A physical therapist will guide the patient on the suitable exercises that will help prevent stiffness as the bones are healing.
  • Arm support: This entails the immobilization of the injured arm with a sling or wraps to keep the bone in place.
  • Pain medication: The doctor may recommend some over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

Surgery

Surgery is usually recommended if the patient’s collarbone is fragmented, has multiple fractures, or is badly aligned.

Treatment for complicated fractures includes:

  • Using a sling for a few weeks after surgery to keep the arm immobile.
  • Fixing the bone in place with metal screws, a metal plate, or just pins and screws to ensure normal healing.
  • Taking painkillers as prescribed by the doctor after surgery.
  • Follow-up X-rays to track healing.
  • Shifting the collarbone into place.

Once the bone has healed, the pins and screws are removed. Unless the skin overlaying the metal plate becomes irritated, metal plates are normally left in place.

Recovery After Clavicle Fracture Treatment

Recovery for adults often takes 6 to 8 weeks and 3 to 6 for young children. However, the recovery periods vary depending on the individual fracture.

Doctors caution against lifting the arm above shoulder level or lifting anything heavy during the first four to six weeks.

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