A clavicle fracture is a break in the clavicle bone (also called the collarbone). It connects the sternum (breastplate) to the shoulder.
The clavicle can fracture in three different places:
- Middle third—the middle portion of the clavicle, which is the most common site for a clavicle fracture
- Distal third—the end of the clavicle connecting to the shoulder
- Medial third—the end of the clavicle connecting to the sternum
Distal Third Clavicle Fracture
A clavicle fracture is caused by trauma to the clavicle bone. The trauma is usually caused by:
- Direct blow to the clavicle
- Falling on an outstretched arm
- Newborn babies can break a clavicle passing through the birth canal
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease, condition, or injury.
- Advancing age, because of the increased risk of falling
- Certain congenital bone conditions
- Participating in contact sports
- Pain, often severe
- Sagging shoulder, down and forward
- Inability to lift the arm because of pain
- A lump or visible deformity over the fracture site
- Tenderness and swelling of the affected area
The doctor will ask about your symptoms, physical activity, and how the injury occurred. The injured area will be examined.
Tests may include:
- X-rays —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones to look for a break
Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury. Treatment involves:
- Putting the pieces of the bone back in position, which may sometimes require anesthesia and more rarely surgery
- Keeping the pieces together while the bone heals itself
Brace or Sling
Most clavicle fractures can be treated with either a figure-of-eight strap, which is wrapped around the body and the shoulders, or with the arm in a sling. These devices help hold the shoulder in place while the clavicle heals. The doctor may prescribe pain medication.
Very rarely, surgery may be needed to set the bone. The doctor may insert pins or a plate and screws in the bone to hold it in place while it heals. You will still need to wear the sling or figure-of-eight strap while you heal.
When your doctor decides you are ready, start shoulder range-of-motion and strengthening exercises. You may be referred to a physical therapist to assist you with these exercises. Do not return to sports activity until your clavicle is fully healed.
- A child may heal as quickly as 3-4 weeks.
- An adolescent may take 6-8 weeks to heal.
- An adult who has stopped growing may require 8-10 weeks to heal.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Clavicle fractures. eMedicine website. Available at: http://emedicine.com/ . Accessed June 1, 2001.
Levy AM, Fuerst M. Sports Injury Handbook . New York, NY:John Wiley & Sons, Inc;1993.
Shoulder trauma. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00394 . Accessed July 15, 2008.
Last reviewed November 2008 by
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