The shoulder blade, also known as the scapula, is found on the upper back, connecting the upper arm to the chest wall. Additionally, it creates the socket part of the shoulder joint that connects the upper arm to the socket. The thick layers of muscle that surround the shoulder blade allow for the smooth and fluid movement of the shoulder joint.
Of all bone breaks, shoulder fractures account for less than one percent of them. They are more commonly sustained by men ages 25-45 because of sporting activities and potential trauma they might incur. Aside from sports injuries and car accidents, a shoulder fracture can also result from a fall that allows for direct force on the shoulder or a direct impact to the shoulder from a heavy object, such as a baseball bat or a hammer. Shoulder fractures can also be a result of a motor vehicle accident. If trauma to the chest, lungs, and internal organs is sustained by heavy forces, the shoulder blade can possibly be fractured. Eighty-percent of people who do have shoulder fractures have injuries associated with the chest and the lungs.
The most noticeable symptoms found in conjunction with a fractured shoulder blade include pain, swelling, and bruising in the upper back across the shoulder blade or on top of the shoulder itself. You may find yourself holding your arm close to your body. Any movement of the arm will intensify the pain. You may even be unable to lift your arm. With each breath you take, you may notice pain, as the movement of the chest wall while breathing causes movement of the shoulder blade.
It is important to contact your doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms. If the trauma is significant, you should seek immediate treatment in a hospital emergency room. If you become short of breath, lose sensation in the affected arm, or experience any abdominal pain, call 911 immediately.
The doctor will evaluate you through a physical exam and most likely order certain imaging tests, such as shoulder and chest x-rays. CT scans of the abdomen may be performed if related injuries need to be evaluated.
Prior to going to the doctor, be sure to immobilize the arm right away.