Published: Sept. 26, 2011
Updated: Mar. 20, 2012
A clavicle fracture, or broken collarbone, is a common injury that occurs in people of all ages.
The clavicle (collarbone) is a long bone located between the ribcage (sternum) and the shoulder blade (scapula) that connects the arm to the body.
The clavicle is vulnerable to fracture because a large part of the bone is only covered and protected by skin, unlike most other bones that are cushioned by both muscles and soft tissues.
Broken collarbones can happen in a variety of ways, including falling with an outstretched hand, receiving a direct blow to the clavicle or shoulder (a common occurrence in full-contact sports such as football, rugby, and hockey), and bearing high-velocity impact in a car accident.
In babies, clavicle fractures can occur at birth, as they pass through the birth canal.
Common symptoms of broken collarbones include:
A physical examination of your shoulder and discussion about your injury with your orthopaedic provider is key to diagnosing a broken collarbone. Your doctor will focus on the cause of injury and your symptoms.
During the examination, your doctor will check to see if blood vessels or nerves were damaged at the time of injury.
X-ray imaging can help your doctor confirm that there is fracture and better assess the location and severity of the broken clavicle. Computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan may also assist your doctor in seeing the clavicle fracture in better detail.
Most broken collarbones can heal properly without surgery (in about 12 weeks). If the ends of the broken bones line up correctly and have not shifted out of place, conservative treatment options will promote healing. These broken clavicle treatments include:
During the healing process, it is very important to follow up with your doctor to be sure that the broken collarbone is healing properly. As it heals, the fracture can move out of place and fuse incorrectly, which creates further complications.
If the fracture does move out of place at any time, your doctor may recommend clavicle fracture surgery designed to align the bones and hold them into place as you heal -- a process that commonly uses plates and screws or pins to internally align the bone.
Following clavicle fracture surgery, physical therapy is commonly recommended to gently keep your muscles strong and aid in clavicle fracture recovery.
Duke Orthopaedics treats broken clavicles at locations convenient to Raleigh, Durham, Cary, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Watch an educational video about broken clavicles and treatment for this condition.