Your Questions, Answered: Treating A Broken Collarbone

Many think a clavicle fracture, aka a broken collarbone, is just something that happens during adolescence from rough play or sporting injuries. But in fact, broken collarbones account for roughly 5% of all fractures in adults. Keep reading to find out the who, what, when and how of clavicle fractures.


Who breaks their collarbone? Just about anybody. Some studies suggest that adolescents (boys in particular) in their teens and early 20s are over 30% more likely to suffer a broken collarbone. However, adults can be affected as well, especially as we age. A collarbone generally breaks from falling on the shoulder, or by falling on an extended arm, putting pressure on the shoulder and snapping the bone.

Breaks in the younger demographic are often due to sports or other physical play. In spring and fall sports, football, lacrosse and wrestling tend to be the biggest culprits. In the winter, falls on the ice during hockey or ice skating can lead to the fracture. In adults, winter snow sports like snowmobiling, skiing and snowboarding tend to be the biggest source of clavicle breaks from an activity. However, non-sport related clavicle injuries can also occur from slip and falls or from your seatbelt during a car accident.


Now you may be wondering; what treatment options are available? Do I need to have surgery? Well, that depends on the break. In general, symptoms of a clavicle fracture include a sagging shoulder, inability to lift or pain when attempting to lift the affected arm, a bump where the bone is displaced and bruising/swelling. If your symptoms are mild and your break is minimal, you may be able to skip the operation and just wear a sling or brace for a few weeks until your bone heals.

For more severe breaks, surgery is required to put the bones back into alignment and prevent them from moving again. Generally, these procedures involve adding plates, screws and/or pins to hold the bones in place. The hardware can be removed after the fracture is healed on a case by case basis.

Physical therapy may also be recommended by your physician, either as part of your conservative treatment or during post-surgery recovery.


So when will you be back to normal? The answer can vary based on your treatment plan and lifestyle. If you were able to avoid surgery, you can likely wear a sling for a few weeks, be re-evaluated and if all is well, you can be on your way. However, if surgery is required and you are an active athlete, you can expect to return to your impact activity (whether hockey, football, wrestling etc.) after 3-6 months.

This recovery timeline is based on the collarbone fracture alone. Depending on how the break occurred and how bad it is, it’s possible that other issues may arise due to the break, such as nerve or vessel damage. Repairing these injuries could add to your recovery time.


How do you avoid a clavicle injury? That may not be possible in some cases since you will not always be able to stop your fall. The best option is to avoid hard falls whenever possible to reduce the risk of a collarbone fracture. Stepping carefully on slick floors, using proper posture and technique while playing sports or participating in activities and being aware of your surroundings can all help avoid future collarbone injuries.


Where can you get help? Look no further! To schedule an appointment with any of our orthopedic and sports medicine surgeons for a clavicle fracture, shoulder issue, knee pain and more, visit our appointments page!


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