Broken Collarbone (Clavicle)

What is a Broken Collarbone?

The collarbone is also known as the clavicle. It is a bone in the upper chest and shoulder region and connects a person’s shoulder blades to the upper portion of their breastbone. The collarbone is a long bone and can break in numerous locations. However, the majority of fractures and breaks occur closer to the center of the bone.

Broken collarbones can occur in numerous ways. A full break means that the collarbone separates into two or more separate pieces. Fractures (or hairline fractures) of the clavicle, though, are smaller cracks in the bone that leave the bone whole, but damaged and weakened.

Broken collarbones can occur in numerous different ways. Falling is a common cause of a broken collarbone. Such an injury can also occur in a car, motorcycle, or bicycle accident. People who participate in sports are often more prone to a broken collarbone, especially if they are involved in contact sports like football, basketball, hockey, or soccer (among others). A baby could also suffer a broken clavicle when he or she is born.

What are the Symptoms of  a Broken Collarbone?

When a person breaks their collarbone, they may experience bruising or swelling in the upper chest or shoulder region. Pain in the area that is worse when a person tries to use their shoulder is also common. Other symptoms of a broken collarbone include a sagging shoulder, heaviness in the shoulder and arm, an inability to use the arm and shoulder, grinding in the shoulder when moved, or a bump over the area of the clavicle that is broken.

Broken Collarbone Causes

The causes of a broken collarbone (also known as a fractured clavicle) are usually accidents.

These can include:

  • Falls
  • Vehicle Trauma
  • Sports Injuries

In newborn babies, a collarbone can break during delivery of a baby who is otherwise healthy, as forces involved in attempting to deliver a baby from a mother can break their delicate bone. It is the most common broken bone in babies during delivery. It is usually detected in the hospital and has an excellent recovery rate. Less commonly, a doctor may have to break the bone in order to deliver the baby safely if a process known as shoulder dystocia develops, but there are other strategies to fix this issue so this practice today is rare.

A broken collarbone is a more common injury in young children and teenagers because the collarbone doesn’t become hard until adulthood, and especially so with children and adolescents involved in sports.

How is a Broken Collarbone Treated?

Non-prescription and prescription pain medications can help treat the pain that a broken collarbone causes. Oftentimes, treatment for a broken collarbone often involves wrapping the arm or shoulder or putting the arm in a sling to immobilize it and allow the clavicle to set and heal properly.

Rehabilitation and physical therapy are also important treatments for a broken collarbone so that the muscles, ligaments, and joints around the collarbone remain healthy and strong and the bone itself does not prevent proper motion once it is set. Surgery is also a possible treatment option for a broken collarbone if the break is severe or the bone is no longer aligned properly.

Broken Collarbone Prevention

Collarbone fractures are difficult to prevent since they usually happen during accidental falls and trauma. Even the most well-trained athletes can slip sometimes. Wearing protective gear like shoulder pads and wrist guards is always a smart idea. Do not go out onto icy ground or an ice rink without wearing boots or skates, respectively. Always take care to exercise with caution.

When driving or riding in a car, always wear your seat belt. When riding a bicycle, avoid obstacles on the ground like rocks, trolley tracks, and potholes that can throw you from your bike, which could result in landing on your outstretched arms.

Children need to be especially careful since the collarbone doesn’t completely harden until the age of 20, which puts children and teenagers at higher risk of a broken collarbone. This risk decreases after age 20 but increases again in older people as bones become more brittle with age. Therefore, care must be taken when attempting physical activities or handling these individuals.