What is a Clavicle Fracture?

A clavicle fracture (also known as a broken collarbone) is a common shoulder injury. It accounts for about 5 to 10 percent of fractures in adults. It can be very painful and can make it difficult for a person to move his/her hand.

Most cases of clavicle fracture occur in the middle portion of the bone. A fall on an outstretched arm or unto the shoulder is a common cause of a broken collarbone. Depending on how the injury is sustained, the bones may either crack slightly or break into many pieces.

Symptoms of a Clavicle Fracture

A broken collarbone can be easily detected. Pain is the most common symptom of clavicle fracture. It can be accompanied by swelling, difficulty in moving the shoulder and the arm, a grinding sensation when the arm is raised, a bump or deformity around the area of the break, sagging in the shoulder, and tenderness and/or bruising over the collarbone.

Diagnosing a Clavicle Fracture

A clavicle fracture is diagnosed after a review of one’s medical history, a thorough physical exam, and through imaging studies.

During the physical exam, the doctor will carefully examine the shoulder. When there is a break, there’s usually an obvious bump or deformity on the affected site. In some cases, it can cause “tenting” of the skin over the fractured site.

X-rays are often ordered to confirm the diagnosis and determine the location and severity of the fracture.

How It Is Treated

The treatment plan for clavicle fracture will depend on the severity of the patient’s condition. If the broken bones have not shifted significantly out of place, then conservative management is advised. These include the use of arm sling for immobilization, pain relievers such as ibuprofen, and physical therapy to maintain arm motion. In many cases, broken collarbones heal even without surgery. One would need to see the doctor regularly until the fracture heals.

Surgery is recommended if one has broken bones that significantly shifted out of place. Open reduction and internal fixation is the most common procedure used for a clavicle fracture. In this procedure, the bone fragments are first repositioned into their normal alignment before being held in place using special metal hardware.