clavicle fracture

Clavicle Fractures: A Detailed Overview

A clavicle fracture, also known as a broken collarbone, is a common injury that can occur due to a blow to the shoulder or a fall onto the shoulder. It is more likely to occur when a fall occurs on a hard surface. This type of fracture can cause significant discomfort and hinder shoulder function.

What is a clavicle fracture?

This refers to a break or crack in the collarbone, which is the long bone located between the shoulder blade (scapula) and the breastbone (sternum). Clavicle fractures are one of the most commonly occurring fractures, typically resulting from trauma or direct impact to the shoulder area.

What causes a clavicle fracture?

They usually occur due to direct blows to the shoulder area, such as during falls, sports injuries, or motor vehicle accidents. Athletes participating in contact sports or activities with a high risk of falls, such as cycling, skiing or martial arts, are more susceptible to clavicle fractures.

Weakening of the bones due to osteoporosis can increase the risk of fractures, including fractures of the clavicle.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms may include persistent pain, swelling and bruising at the fracture site, particularly when moving or raising the arm. Lifting objects overhead can be difficult and painful to perform.

A visible deformity or bump may be present at the site of the fracture, indicating displacement of the bone fragments. Occasionally, there may be numbness or tingling in the arm, when the fracture has compressed blood vessels and nerves.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosing a clavicle fracture typically involves a combination of medical history, a thorough physical examination, and imaging studies.

X-ray imaging or MRI scanning is the most commonly used diagnostic tool to confirm the presence of a clavicle fracture and determine the extent of the injury. Then, your London Shoulder Specialist can advise on either non-surgical or surgical treatments.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment depends on various factors, including the severity of the fracture, age, activity level, and overall health of the patient. The goal is to ensure that the broken bone has the best chance of healing, and that it heals in the proper position to restore full functioning of the arm.

For non-displaced or minimally displaced fractures, wearing a sling or arm brace for a couple of weeks may be sufficient to allow the bone to heal properly without the need for surgery. Also, over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to alleviate pain and inflammation. A fracture will usually take six to eight weeks to fully heal and normal function will return. However, if the ends of the fractured bone have shifted out of position, then surgery will be recommended.

When is surgery needed?

Surgery is not always necessary, especially for non-displaced or minimally displaced fractures that can be effectively managed with conservative treatments. However, it will be recommended in fractures with a large separation, compound or open fractures, when there is blood vessel or nerve damage, when healing hasn’t been successful after three to six months, or when there are overlapping broken ends of the bone (shortened clavicle).

Surgery involves a small incision on the top of the collarbone and the insertion of a metal plate and screws to maintain the proper position. Usually, these are left in the bone, but they can be removed later on after healing.

Are there any risks of clavicle fracture surgery?

Your individual suitability for clavicle fracture surgery along with any risks will be discussed with you in your consultation with your London Shoulder Specialist. There are some risks of clavicle fracture surgery which include difficulty in bone healing, lung injury and irritation caused by the plates, screws or pins required to hold the bones in the correct position.

A full recovery and return to activity/sport after clavicle fracture surgery will normally take up to 12 weeks. Your specialist will provide a strengthening exercise programme in this period.

A clavicle fracture is a common injury that can result from a trauma to the shoulder. By seeking prompt medical attention, and seeking guidance from a shoulder injury specialist, individuals can achieve successful healing and restore shoulder function.

If you suspect that you may have a clavicle fracture, speak to your London Shoulder Specialist who can recommend an appropriate treatment plan and ways to effectively manage your condition.