The clavicle, or collarbone, is an important part of the skeletal structure because it connects the arms to the body. This bone stretches across the top of your chest from the sternum (breastbone) to your scapula (shoulder blade). It is easy to feel the clavicle, because unlike other bones which are covered with muscle, only skin covers a large part of the bone.
As with any bone in the body, the collarbone can break from injury. Clavicle fractures are most common in children and adult athletes. Because, the collarbone does not completely ossify, or harden, until about 20 years of age, a baby's collarbone can break during birth. A child's collarbone can easily break from direct impact. Most adult clavicle fractures occur during sport activities that result in a fall on an outstretched hand or directly upon the shoulder.
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, typical symptoms of a broken collarbone include:
- Pain and inability to lift the arm
- A bump where the fracture occurred
- The shoulder sagging down and forward
- A grinding sensation when trying to raise the arm
- Although it is rare for a bone fragment to break the skin, it may push the skin into a "tent" formation
Although a clavicle fracture is usually obvious, an orthopedic specialist performs a careful exam to determine the exact break location and to ensure there is no damage to the nerves and blood vessels located immediately below the collarbone.
A broken collarbone may take up to 12 weeks to heal. Treatment of clavicle fractures is usually conservative consisting of activity modification and arm immobilization. Depending on the location of the break, an arm sling or a figure-of-eight strap is used to help keep the shoulder in position.
Anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may be prescribed to help manage pain. Surgery is required in rare situations when either the skin is broken or if the fracture is severely displaced or shortened.
Stretching and exercises to improve range of motion are introduced as part of a therapy program when the pain subsides. As the fracture heals, a bump will develop but usually fades over time and with healing. You can return to sports and other activities once the shoulder is completely healed and back to full strength.
For more information about clavicle fractures, or to schedule an appointment, call VOA at 425-656-5060.
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