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Clavicle Fracture (Broken Collarbone) Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Your clavicle (or collarbone) connects your arm to the rest of your body. It's part of your shoulder.

Like any bone, it can fracture or break. People usually break their collarbone by falling on or hitting their shoulder. Falling on a hand that's outstretched can also cause a clavicle fracture.

People of all ages can break their collarbone, though it's particularly common in children and young people. It is often very painful and can make moving your arm or shoulder difficult.

People who fracture their clavicle often spend time with their arm in a sling as the break heals.

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What Is a Clavicle Fracture?

A clavicle fracture is a broken collarbone. It's a common injury, caused by trauma to the shoulder or direct impact to the clavicle.

Children are more likely than adults to break their collarbone, with fractures happening twice as often as in adults. Broken collarbones make up as much as 15% of all fractures in growing children. They make up about 5% of adult fractures.

The clavicle (or collarbone) provides your shoulder with stability and strength. It also protects nerves and blood vessels that run from the neck to the shoulder.

What Causes Clavicle Fractures?

A broken collarbone (or clavicle fracture) occurs when you receive a direct blow to the:

  • Outside part of your shoulder.
  • Elbow.
  • Outstretched arm.

You can also break your collarbone if you fall on the "tip" of an unprotected shoulder.

Athletes that tend to have a higher risk of getting a clavicle fracture include:

  • Football players.
  • Wrestlers.
  • Ice hockey players.

What Are the Risk Factors and Complications of Broken Collarbones?

Children are at a higher risk of breaking their collarbone because their bones have lower density. The collarbone in particular hasn't hardened yet.

Children who are athletes in contact sports like football are even more likely to fracture their clavicle. Adults who play contact sports have a higher risk as well.

However, bicycle accidents, falls around the house, and automobile accidents are also to blame. Even babies are sometimes born with a fractured clavicle. It can happen as they are passing through the birth canal.

One complication of a clavicle fracture is a nonunion, which means the bones haven't healed. If the bone moves out of place before it can heal in the proper position, it's a malunion.

Both of these complications may require further treatment or even surgery. However, some people with these complications have little pain, and their range of motion isn't affected.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Broken Collarbones?

A clavicle fracture will often cause instant pain in the shoulder or collarbone.

Other broken collarbone symptoms include:

  • Swelling and bruising.
  • A deformity or bump that develops over the break.
  • A limited range of motion in your arm (inability to lift your arm).

Because it affects your ability to move your arm, most people know right away that something is wrong. It's important to seek treatment immediately so that a doctor can assess your break and help the bone to heal correctly.

How Do You Diagnose a Broken Collarbone?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and what you were doing when the pain started. It's helpful for them to know if it was a fall, a hit, an accident, or some other activity.

Then they will look for signs of a fracture on the clavicle (or collarbone). There is usually a bump or lump. They'll gently press on the area of the suspected break, which usually causes pain.

Your doctor will also check your:

  • Blood flow
  • Joint movement
  • Shoulder strength

Your doctor will likely order an x-ray to confirm a broken collarbone diagnosis and see the injury's severity.

If multiple bones have broken, your doctor may do a CT scan to get a better look at the fractures. This is a series of x-rays that can create a 3D image of your bones.

How Do You Treat Clavicle Fractures?

If you break your collarbone while playing sports, you want to immobilize the shoulder first and seek treatment from a doctor.

Broken collarbone treatments include:

  • An arm sling.
  • Medicine for pain.
  • Physical therapy.
  • Surgery for severe clavicle fractures.

Nonsurgical clavicle fracture treatments

Broken collarbone recovery time depends on the injury's severity but usually heals on its own in about four to six weeks.

While your broken collarbone heals, you:

  • Will need to wear a sling to limit motion in your arm and shoulder.
  • Can take acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain.

When the bone heals, you will need to:

  • Begin physical therapy.
  • Do some range-of-motion and strength exercises.
  • Avoid playing sports until the pain is gone and your strength has returned.

Clavicle fracture surgery

If you have a severe clavicle fracture, your doctor may suggest broken collarbone surgery.

You'll need to remain in a sling for about six weeks after clavicle fracture surgery and begin physical therapy exercises right afterward.

It may take three months or more following clavicle fracture surgery to regain your full strength and return to activity.