Symptoms and Treatment of a Broken Collarbone

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The collarbone, also called the clavicle, is the bone over the top of your chest, between your breastbone (sternum) and the shoulder blade (scapula). It is easy to feel the clavicle because unlike other bones that are covered with muscle, only skin covers a large part of the bone.

Clavicle fractures are extremely common, accounting for between 2 and 5% of all fractures. Broken collarbones occur in babies (usually during birth), children and adolescents (because the clavicle does not complete development until the late teens), athletes (because of the risks of being hit or falling), or during many types of accidents and falls.

A woman's collarbone
PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images

Types of Clavicle Fractures

Usually, clavicle fractures are separated into three types of injuries depending on the location of the fracture.

  • Mid-shaft clavicle fractures (75%): Occurring in the central third of the bone, they can be a simple crack in the bone or badly displaced. Multiple breaks in the bone (segmental fractures), significant displacement (separation), or shortening of the length of the bone are particular concerns.
  • Distal clavicle fractures (20%): These occur in close proximity to the end of the collarbone at the shoulder joint. This part of the shoulder is called the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, and distal clavicle fractures often have similar treatment considerations as an AC joint injury.
  • Medial clavicle fractures (5%): These are much less common and often have a relationship to injury to the sternoclavicular joint. One of the last growth plates to close in the body is at the medial end of the clavicle. Growth plate fractures of the clavicle can be seen into the late teens and early 20s.

Broken Collarbone Symptoms

Most often, patients with a clavicle fracture complain of shoulder pain and difficulty moving their arm.  Common symptoms of this injury include:

  • Pain over the collarbone
  • Deformity of the collarbone
  • Swelling and bruising around the shoulder. Over time, the bruising may extend down the chest and armpit.
  • Difficulty raising the arm from the side
  • Numbness and tingling can occur down the arm

Diagnosis

At the healthcare provider's office or in the emergency room, an X-ray will be obtained to assess for the specific type of clavicle fracture.

Your healthcare provider will also perform an examination to ensure the nerves and blood vessels surrounding the clavicle are intact. The nerves and vessels are rarely injured because of a broken collarbone but in severe cases, these associated injuries can occur.

Treatment

The treatment of a clavicle fracture is accomplished either by allowing the bone to heal or performing a surgical procedure to restore the proper alignment of the bone and hold it in position.

Unlike many other fractures, some common treatments for broken bones are not appropriate for clavicle fractures. Casting a clavicle fracture is not performed. In addition, resetting the bone (called a closed reduction) is not performed because there is no way to hold the bone in alignment without performing surgery. 

In making a decision about surgery, some of the following factors may be taken into consideration by your healthcare provider:

  • Location of fracture and degree of displacement of the bone: Nondisplaced, or minimally displaced, fractures should be managed without surgery.
  • Shortening of the fracture fragment: Even displaced fractures can heal, but when there is a significant shortening of the collarbone, this may not be as well tolerated.
  • Other injuries that may have occurred: Patients with head injuries or multiple fractures may be treated without surgery.
  • Age of the patient: Younger patients have a better ability to recover from fractures without surgery.
  • Expectations of the patient: When the injury involves an athlete, heavy laborer, or the dominant extremity, there may be more reason for surgery.
  • Arm dominance: When fractures occur in your dominant arm, the effects of a badly displaced fracture or more likely to be noticeable.

Your healthcare provider can have a discussion with you about the pros and cons of surgery. While the vast majority of clavicle fractures can be managed without surgery, there are some situations where surgery may provide a better outcome.

Several types of supports are used for the non-surgical treatment of clavicle fractures. These include a sling or figure-of-8 brace. The figure-of-8 brace has not been shown to affect fracture alignment, and many patients generally find a sling more comfortable.

Healing and Rehabilitation

Clavicle fractures should heal within 6–12 weeks in adults, and 3–6 weeks in children, but the pain usually subsides within a few weeks. Often patients are back to full activities before 12 weeks have passed, especially with younger patients. Immobilization is seldom needed beyond a few weeks and at that point, light activity and gentle motion can usually begin.

As a general guide to return to activities, nothing should cause worsening pain. If not wearing a sling causes pain, wear a sling. If driving hurts the fracture site, don't drive. If throwing a ball hurts, don't throw. Once an activity doesn't cause significant pain, a gradual return can be attempted.

Recovery is usually complete, with a full return expected. Patients may notice a persistent bump where the fracture was (often for months or longer), but this should not be bothersome.

A Word From Verywell

Fractures of the collarbone are very common orthopedic injuries they can occur in just about any age group. The vast majority of clavicle fractures can be treated with nonsurgical treatments, usually, a simple sling is sufficient.

Sometimes, when clavicle fractures are badly displaced, they may benefit from surgical treatment. Usually, there are options for treatment, and discussing the pros and cons of different types of treatments with your orthopedic surgeon is the place to start.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does a broken collarbone take to recover?

    Recovery time from a broken collarbone depends on age, the fracture's location, and the extent of damage. Children younger than 8 can heal in four or five weeks. In adolescents, it can take between six to eight weeks. Teenagers who have stopped growing may recover at 10 or 12 weeks, or even longer. For adults, most clavicle fractures will fully heal after four months.

  • Why is there a bump on the collarbone?

    For some people, a bump may form in the place they experienced a collarbone fracture. It may take several months for this bump to fully heal, but it shouldn't be a significant issue. If the bump appears inflamed or irritated, it may be a good idea to inform your healthcare provider.

  • What is clavicular swelling?

    When the sternoclavicular joint (SCJ, where the collarbone connects to the breastbone) swells up or grows larger, it is referred to as clavicular swelling. This swelling is commonly caused by trauma, disease, or an infection that affects the fluid found in the joints.

  • What should I avoid doing with a broken collarbone?

    With a broken collarbone, you should avoid doing anything that worsens the pain. For example, if driving is painful, then avoid driving until the fracture is healed. You can gradually ease yourself into doing activities that involve little to no pain.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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