May 2020 Update: In the midst of the current COVID-19 crisis, we know that people continue to need immediate medical attention for unrelated injuries and illnesses. As your neighborhood emergency room, we want you to know that your safety and well-being are top priorities for us. Armed with the area’s best emergency room physicians, we are open 24/7 for all of your emergency medical needs. We recognize the apprehension that many people have when visiting an emergency room for care. We want to assure you that we are taking all precautions to protect our patients and our staff. We have implemented strict protocols surrounding the use of protective equipment, cleaning, and sanitizing. Our wait times, as always, are minimized to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
When you hear about bone fractures, it’s common for the first images to come to mind being of someone wearing a cast on an arm or a leg. And, while those injuries are prevalent, it’s also possible to break the collarbone — especially during a car accident or while playing contact sports. Yet, it’s common for people to wait things out to see if the pain will subside. How do you know if you’ve broken your collarbone? How is it treated? And, what’s the recovery time?
Overview of Collarbone Fractures
The clavicle — or collarbone — is a thin, long bone that connects your shoulder blades to your sternum (breastbone). Fractures on this bone can occur in three different areas:
- The third portion that’s closest to the breastbone. They usually occur by a hard blow directly to the chest.
- The middle portion. This type of fracture occurs when you fall on an outstretched arm, or by direct impact to this area of the bone.
- The portion that’s closest to the shoulder. This type of fracture usually occurs when you have a hard blow to the side or top of the shoulder.
Common Causes of a Broken Collarbone
Any type of hard blow can cause a broken clavicle — falling on your side or breaking a fall with your arms, being tackled, playing rugby, or being involved in a car crash. It’s a very common type of injury — especially in children, teenagers, and young adults. It is also possible for a baby to experience a broken collarbone during childbirth.
Symptoms of a Broken Collarbone
The symptoms of a broken collarbone are hard to miss. They may vary depending on the severity of the injury, but the most common ones include:
- Intense pain
- Bruising that can spread along the entire collarbone
- Difficulty moving your shoulder and arm
- A grinding sensation when you attempt to move your arm
- A visible bulge at the site of injury
In the most severe injuries, it’s possible for the broken bone to impact nearby blood vessels, nerves, or your lungs. In very rare instances, you’d be able to see a portion of the bone piercing the skin.
Diagnosis and Treatment for a Broken Collarbone
Your doctor will examine the collarbone, shoulder, and chest for signs of deformity and bruising. While doing so, they will press lightly on different areas of the skin to determine if there are any loose bone fragments. They will also listen to your breathing through a stethoscope to find out whether the injury has damaged your lungs. After this physical examination, you’ll need x-rays to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment will depend on the extent of the injury. If the bone sections are widely separated, your doctor will carefully manipulate them to get them back into their original position. If this is necessary, you’ll receive numbing medications to ease the pain and relax the muscles around the clavicle. Once realigned, you’ll have to wear a bandage around your injured shoulder to support it until you fully heal — a process that could take between six and eight weeks. Once the bandage is removed, you’ll undergo physical therapy to regain your full range of motion. In a worst-case scenario, you may need surgery to realign the broken bones and hold them in place with screws.
If the injury was relatively minor — such as a crack on the bone — it may heal with anti-inflammatory pain relievers, resting, and icing the injury. You’ll also likely need physical therapy to ensure you maintain your range of motion.
Complications of a Broken Collarbone
Most collarbone fractures deal without any issues. However, always seek emergency medical attention to lower the risk of possible complications. These include:
- Damage to nearby nerves or blood vessels. Symptoms include tingling or numbness in your arm and/or hand.
- Bony lump. This can sometimes occur during the healing process where the cracked bone joins together.
- Shortened bone. This could occur when there is an inadequate union of the broken sections of the collarbone.
- Post-traumatic osteoarthritis. Any type of traumatic injury to the bone could increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas
If you or a loved one have a medical emergency, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.
Find the Complete Care location nearest you.