A broken collarbone, known medically as the clavicle, is a common injury in newborns, children, and athletes. The collarbones, considered part of the shoulders, connect the arms to the rest of the body and protect important nerves and blood vessels. Fortunately, these important tissues are not often harmed when a person breaks their collarbone. Most breaks to the long collarbones occur in the middle of the bones.
Common causes of a broken collarbone
The following are common causes or risk factors for collarbone fracture:
- Childbirth. Some children are born with a broken collarbone, as the bones can fracture during the birth process.
- Childhood. Children are more susceptible to broken collarbones caused by falls or direct blows because it takes the clavicle 20 years to completely harden and, thus, become strong enough to withstand certain physical force.
- Falls and accidents. Falls on a dangerous property or car accidents can cause fractured clavicle bones.
- Athletes. People who do certain sports are also more prone to broken collarbones.
Symptoms of a broken collarbone
A broken collarbone often present symptoms of:
- Pain that prevents lifting the arm on the affected side
- Sagging of the shoulder down and forward
- A grinding feeling caused by raising the arm
- A bump or abnormality at the fracture site
Diagnosing a broken collarbone
The bump or abnormality that usually develops over the fracture site helps doctors to diagnose the broken collarbone. A doctor will perform an examination to make sure that blood vessels and nerves are not harmed by the fracture. She or he will usually order x-rays to determine the precise location and severity of the fracture.
Treating a broken collarbone
Fortunately, most fractured collarbones heal without invasive medical intervention. An arm sling or other brace can immobilize the area to allow it to heal. For adults the average time in a sling is 6 to 8 weeks, while for children it may heal in 3 to 4 weeks.
If the pain is problematic, a doctor may prescribe a mild anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin or acetaminophen.
During the healing process, a large bump may develop over the fracture site. This is normal and usually disappears with time. After the bone has healed, it may still take some time for the shoulder to regain complete functioning. Functioning will return quicker in patient’s whose clavicle did not endure too much separation (dislocation) during the fracture.
Once the pain has subsided, a doctor may recommend specific exercises to aid in recovery.