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Clavicle Fracture
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Clavicle Fracture

(Broken Collarbone)

En Español (Spanish Version)

Definition

A clavicle fracture is a break in the clavicle bone (also called the collarbone). It connects the sternum (breastplate) to the shoulder.

The clavicle can fracture in three different places:

  • Middle third—the middle portion of the clavicle, which is the most common site for a clavicle fracture
  • Distal third—the end of the clavicle connecting to the shoulder
  • Medial third—the end of the clavicle connecting to the sternum

Distal Third Clavicle Fracture

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Causes

A clavicle fracture is caused by trauma to the clavicle bone. The trauma is usually caused by:

  • Direct blow to the clavicle
  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • Newborn babies can break a clavicle passing through the birth canal

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease, condition, or injury.

  • Advancing age, because of the increased risk of falling
  • Osteoporosis
  • Certain congenital bone conditions
  • Participating in contact sports
  • Violence

Symptoms

Symptoms include:

  • Pain, often severe
  • Sagging shoulder, down and forward
  • Inability to lift the arm because of pain
  • A lump or visible deformity over the fracture site
  • Tenderness and swelling of the affected area

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.

Tests may include:

  • X-rays—a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones to look for a break

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Treatment involves:

  • Putting the pieces of the bone back in position, which may sometimes require anesthesia and more rarely surgery
  • Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself

Brace or Sling

Most clavicle fractures can be treated with either a figure-of-eight strap, which is wrapped around the body and the shoulders, or with the arm in a sling. These devices help hold the shoulder in place while the clavicle heals. The doctor may prescribe pain medication.

Surgery

Very rarely, surgery may be needed to set the bone. The doctor may insert pins or a plate and screws in the bone to hold it in place while it heals. You will still need to wear the sling or figure-of-eight strap while you heal.

Exercises

When your doctor decides you are ready, start shoulder range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. You may be referred to a physical therapist to assist you with these exercises. Do not return to sports activity until your clavicle is fully healed.

Healing Time

  • A child may heal as quickly as 3-4 weeks.
  • An adolescent may take 6-8 weeks to heal.
  • An adult who has stopped growing may require 8-10 weeks to heal.

Prevention

To help prevent clavicle fractures:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the clavicle bone.
  • Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D.
  • Build strong muscles to prevent falls and to stay active and agile.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.aaos.org/

American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.aossm.org/

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org/

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org/

References:

Clavicle fractures. eMedicine website. Available at: http://emedicine.com/. Accessed June 1, 2001.

Levy AM, Fuerst M. Sports Injury Handbook. New York, NY:John Wiley & Sons, Inc;1993.

Shoulder trauma. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00394. Accessed July 15, 2008.



Last reviewed October 2007 by Robert E. Leach, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.


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