About Clavicle Fractures

Fractures of the clavicle are a common injury that I treat. “Broken collarbones” seem to be more commonly associated with higher energy injuries. When patients crash their bicycle or their motorcycle, they will sometimes break their clavicle.

A shoulder practitioner will make the diagnosis of fracture of the humerus or clavicle after obtaining a history, performing a careful examination, and reviewing imaging studies. Plain X-RAYS are usually sufficient to establish the diagnosis of a fracture of the clavicle.

Treatment

Clavicle fractures can be subdivided into several different types. Those that are minimally displaced or minimally angulated are usually treated without surgery. Those that have substantial displacement, shortening, or angulation may benefit from surgery.

I have a strong preference for a clavicle strap as the preferred method of treatment for clavicle fractures that are treated without surgery. It is okay to use a regular sling also. Both methods generally result in satisfactory healing.

I prefer a clavicle strap because I have found that most patients are more comfortable in a clavicle strap than they are when only using a sling. Many of the providers that render initial care in our area are unfamiliar with use of the clavicle strap. I have them in my office and am able to transition the patient from a regular sling into a clavicle strap with minimal discomfort.

No matter which method of treatment is used, broken collarbones hurt a lot. It is important to prepare for several weeks of discomfort.

Some clavicle fractures will do best if surgery is performed. Surgery generally involves the use of a plate and screws in an attempt to improve the alignment of the bone and hold the bone in that improved position.

When healing is complete most patients are able to return to full activity after sustaining an isolated clavicle fracture. Permanent deformity of the bone is common after the bone heals completely.

Treatment FAQs

The bone that joins your breastbone to your shoulder blade, often called the “collarbone”.

Most of the time, no. I will discuss that with you on your first visit. At this time your fracture is in a position that surgery is not the best treatment for you. During the healing phase, I will take more X-rays to monitor the healing process. In some cases the bones will move into a position that requires surgery later.

Most clavicle fractures heal well and allow a return to full activity. Deformity at the fracture is often permanent.

Risks

Occasionally a clavicle fracture will not completely heal. This is called a non-union.

Infection is probably less than 1 in 1,000 if surgery is not done.

No. It is safe to pursue all activities without restriction once completely healed.

A Common Sequence of Recovery

You will sleep best in an upright position, such as in a recliner. You will sleep poorly due to pain. An ice bag or other cold source on your shoulder will lessen your pain. Drugs for pain will help. You may feel a sense that the bones are moving. This is normal and not harmful.

No. Generally patients are healed by four months.

This varies widely. Most commonly, I see patients requiring narcotic analgesics until around two weeks following the fracture. One of the last discomforts to go away is nighttime pain, and many patients will still use a pain pill to help them sleep as long as eight weeks after the fracture.

As soon as you would like.

A clavicle strap or sling is usually needed for about six weeks.