→ a broken collarbone.
‘Clavicle’ is the medical term for the collarbone. This is the long, slender bone that sits below the neck and above the ribcage (though it is in fact made up of two bones: the left and right clavicle). The clavicles keep the shoulder blades in place and allow the arms to move freely. They also protect the blood vessels and nerves that run directly underneath.
Clavicle fractures are one of the most common kinds of shoulder injuries, and they can happen to people of all ages. They are usually caused by falls – most commonly onto the shoulder itself, but sometimes onto an outstretched hand; in this case the impact travels down the arm with such force that it causes the clavicle to break. Car collisions, bicycle falls and contact sport impacts are other common causes of clavicle fractures. Clavicle fractures vary in severity, from a faint crack to a complete break of the bone into several pieces; less commonly, the nerves and blood vessels underneath the shoulder can be damaged by the impact.
Collarbone fractures can be very painful. They are often visible through the skin as a raised bump or deformity, and may be accompanied by swelling and bruising. They can make it difficult to lift the arm, and may cause the whole shoulder to sag downwards. Sometimes patients also experience a grinding sensation in the bone.
Clavicle fractures can usually be identified by the bump above the bone, and by a doctor applying gentle pressure to the area, which is likely to be very tender. X-ray scans can help to confirm the precise location of the injury, and the severity of the fracture.
Most clavicle fractures are able to heal naturally. It may be necessary to wear a sling for a few weeks to help this process along, and we might also recommend medication to reduce the pain, and / or physiotherapy and exercises to prevent stiffness in the arm while the shoulder is immobile. Simple fractures usually take around seven weeks to heal in adults, and around a month in children, though you may not regain full strength for several months. More severe fractures can prevent the pieces of bone from aligning properly – in this case we may recommend surgery (Click on Shoulder Trauma Surgery) with plates and screws to correct alignment as the break heals.