Broken Collarbone (Clavicle Fracture) Repair

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Collarbone (Clavicle) Overview

The collarbone (clavicle) is one your main bones, serving as the connector of the arm to the body.  Everyone has two collarbones, a left and right collarbone.

Causes of Collarbone Fracture

Ordinarily, a fractured collarbone is due to a blow directly to the shoulder, the result of a fall, car accident, or sports trauma. Babies sometimes incur a broken collarbone during a vaginal delivery as they pass through the birth canal.

Symptoms of a Broken Collarbone

Symptoms of a fracture to the collarbone include:

  • Pain (increased by the movement of your shoulder)
  • Inability to lift your arm
  • Downward and forward “droop” of your shoulder
  • Notable “grating” when raising your arm
  • Abnormality or lump over break location
  • Swelling, bruising, and/or sensitivity over the collarbone
  • Non-movement of arm for several days in the newborn child

How Collarbone Fractures are Diagnosed

If you suspect that you have broken your collarbone, it is important to seek medical attention. Depending on the seriousness of your break, your primary care or emergency room physician may recommend consulting an orthopedic surgeon.

Before examining your shoulder for pain and/or visible deformity at the injury site, your doctor will inquire about how the damage occurred, your symptoms, and other of your current and past medical issues.

Tests to assess possible damage to nerves or blood vessels, as well as imaging studies (X-rays and computed tomography/CT scans) will allow your physician to determine the extent of damage resulting from the collarbone fracture, its exact location, and its severity.

Treatments Options for Collarbone Fractures

Non-Surgical treatment of broken collarbone

The good news is that many collarbone fractures heal on their own. Should that be the case, your arm needs to be immovable while healing; this usually involves the use of a sling or other immobilization method for at least three to four weeks.

Your physician will advise you when you may safely begin to exercise your arm; if you begin too soon, it may complicate or delay your healing.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen are commonly used for dealing with pain.

Once cleared to use your arm, maintaining motion will prevent stiffness.

Surgical treatments for broken collarbone

In the case of a severe break, or when the ends of the fractured collarbone bone are displaced (fail to line up with one another), surgery with an orthopedic surgeon may be required, particularly if you are active and/or young.

Collarbone surgery typically entails shifting the broken bones back into position, and inhibiting their movement with metal plates and screws until they are completely healed. This hardware is typically left in place after the procedure unless its presence causes you discomfort.Surgical repair of a broken collarbone is usually performed by an orthopedic surgeon.

You will experience some discomfort during the healing process, and you might find relief using ice and OTC (over-the-counter) medications. For more severe pain, your doctor may prescribe a stronger medication for a short time period.

Most people return to their regular activities within three months of their injury. Your doctor will advise you when your injury is stable enough to do so. Resuming normal activities or lifting with your arm before your doctor recommends may require you to start treatment from the beginning.

Your doctor may recommend home therapy treatment or suggest that you work with a physical therapist to restore movement and strengthen your shoulder. Although physical therapy may seem to be a slow process, sticking with it will be a major factor in allowing you to return to all the activities you enjoy.

 

Orthopedic Surgeons

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