Causes of Collarbone Pain and Treatment Options

Everything you need to know about pain in the collarbone

Common causes of collarbone, or clavicle, pain tend to be related to injuries. However, collarbone pain may also be caused by certain sleeping positions, as well as some health conditions.

Collarbone pain may be described as feeling tender, achy, or throbbing, and may come on suddenly or gradually.

This article will explain common and rare causes of collarbone pain. It will also cover when to reach out to your doctor, how collarbone conditions are diagnosed, as well as treatment options.

What Are Common Causes of Collarbone Pain?

Common causes of clavicle pain.

Alexandra Gordon / Verywell

Common causes of collarbone pain include injury from trauma and arthritis. Certain sleeping positions can also trigger collarbone pain.

Traumatic causes are usually felt immediately with sudden, severe pain at the time of injury.

Non-traumatic causes may come on gradually and might not be painful unless you attempt to move your arm or shoulder.

Fractured Collarbone

A collarbone fracture, or a broken collarbone, may occur if you fall and land on your shoulder or arm. Getting into a car accident can also lead to a fractured collarbone.

Broken collarbones can lead to intense pain and swelling, and make it difficult to move you arm.

Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Separation

The AC joint is a bit of cartilage, or flexible tissue, that connects the collarbone to the scapula. The scapula is the triangular bone on the back of the shoulder.

Injury triggered by direct impact to the shoulder or the arm can separate the collarbone from the scapula at the AC joint. This can lead to pain, tenderness, and difficulty with shoulder movement.

Arthritis

The sternoclavicular joint, or SC joint, is located between the breastbone and the collarbone. Arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis, can lead to wearing away of the cartilage that covers the SC joint. This can cause pain, stiffness, and inflammation.

AC joint osteoarthritis can also cause pain in the collarbone, neck, and shoulder.

Sleeping Position

If you sleep on your side, and especially the same side all the time, it can put a lot of strain on your collarbone and shoulder. It might just make you stiff and sore, but it's possible that lying on your side can lead to:

  • Tears in the rotator cuff, which are the muscles around the shoulder joint
  • Tendinitis, inflammation of the tendons that can trigger pain and difficulty with movement
  • Nerve impingement, also called a pinched nerve, which can cause pain, tenderness, and numbness around the impacted area

Recap

Common causes of collarbone pain include trauma-related injuries, arthritis, and certain sleeping positions. Traumatic causes may trigger immediate pain, while non-traumatic causes may lead to pain that develops over time.

What Are Rare Causes of Collarbone Pain?

Rare causes of collarbone pain can be triggered by certain conditions, as well as infections.

Kehr's Sign

Kehr's sign is left shoulder pain that occurs when blood from a ruptured spleen irritates the diaphragm, a muscle that helps with breathing.

The phrenic nerve, which helps the diaphragm manage breathing, is responsible for this. This nearby bundle of fibers senses the irritation and transmits pain signals. And because the nerve runs from the neck to the diaphragm, that pain can be felt in the shoulder.

More specifically, there tends to be an aching pain where the top of the shoulder meets the end of the collarbone.

This type of condition is described as referred pain, which is when pain or symptoms are felt in areas other than the site of the actual injury or condition.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

The thoracic outlet is the area between the top rib and the bottom of the collarbone.

Thoracic outlet syndrome occurs when nerves or blood vessels in this area get crushed by the collarbone, rib, or neck muscles. This can lead to pain, tingling, and swelling.

Osteomyelitis

Osteomyelitis is a bone infection that may occur when bacteria or fungi get into your system. This can happen if you experience a compound fracture, which is when a broken bone comes through the skin; a wound near the clavicle; or a systemic infection, such as sepsis.

Symptoms of osteomyelitis may include pain, joint warmth, and swelling.

Condensing Osteitis

This rare condition, which has no known cause, can lead to pain and swelling in the collarbone. It is a benign disorder, meaning that it is not cancerous and doesn't spread to other areas of the body.

Treatment may include antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medications.

Recap

Rare causes of collarbone pain include conditions such as Kehr's sign, thoracic outlet syndrome, and condensing osteitis. Osteomyelitis, a bone infection, can also lead to this type of pain.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Whether or not you can wait to make an appointment with your doctor depends on a few factors.

In the case of trauma, the most important factor is whether or not the pain is tolerable. If you're in a lot of pain, it's best to go to urgent care right away. Sudden, severe pain due to an injury could mean the collarbone is broken or dislocated, or separated from the other bones around it.

If the pain is tolerable after an injury, or you are experiencing gradual pain over time that isn't due to an injury, you may choose to make an appointment with your primary healthcare provider.

Call 911 if:

  • You have a significant collarbone injury and feel confused and short of breath
  • Non-traumatic collarbone pain gets worse when you lie flat or is associated with stomach pain, as this could mean your spleen has ruptured
  • You feel pain in your arms, shoulders, collarbone, neck, or back, as well as feel faint, and have chest pain

How Are Collarbone Conditions Diagnosed?

To diagnose the cause of your collarbone pain, your doctor will take a detailed medical history and give you a physical examination.

Next, imaging tests may be done, including:

  • X-rays, which may be used to check for broken bones
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scans, which may be used to check for broken bones, as well as internal bleeding
  • Bone scans, which may be used to check for bone damage or diseases

Treatment of Collarbone Conditions

Treatment for collarbone pain will depend on the specific cause. In some cases, treatment may be done at home prior to seeing your doctor or going to urgent care.

At-Home Treatment and First Aid

In traumatic cases of collarbone pain, especially if a broken collarbone is suspected, the affected arm can be prevented from moving (immobilized) by placing the arm in a sling. This can be done while you wait for immediate medical care.

A sling can be made out of a towel, an elastic bandage, or an item of clothing. When wearing the sling, your arm should rest against your chest and your hand should be higher than your elbow. The sling shouldn't feel too loose or tight.

If the collarbone pain is from a muscle injury or sprain, you can use the R.I.C.E. method: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation. When icing, do so for no more than 20 minutes at a time and don't place ice directly on the skin.

Recap

If you are waiting for treatment after experiencing a traumatic injury, you may want to use first aid techniques to help protect your injury from further damage and ease pain. You may choose to make a sling and/or use the R.I.C.E. method.

Healthcare Provider Treatment

Depending on the type and severity of the injury, your healthcare provider may:

  • Place your arm in a sling
  • Give you icing instructions
  • Give you pain medication
  • Give you arm exercises to do after several weeks of immobilization

If you have an infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic as well.

Summary

Collarbone pain can be caused by certain conditions, like arthritis, as well as an injury from trauma. Sleeping in certain positions can also lead to tears and inflammation, which can cause collarbone pain.

Certain rare conditions, like Kehr's sign, thoracic outlet syndrome, osteomyelitis, and condensing osteitis can also cause collarbone pain.

Treatment depends on the underlying cause, but may include immobilization and pain medication.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Kehr's sign?

    Kehr's sign is a referred shoulder pain caused by blood seeping out from a spleen rupture and irritating the diaphragm. Referred pain is when a painful sensation is felt elsewhere from the point of injury; in this case, the phrenic nerve sends pain signals to the shoulder when it recognizes the diaphragm's irritation.

  • Why does my collarbone hurt when I breathe?

    If your collarbone hurts when you breathe, it may be due to a clavicle fracture (broken collarbone). Shortness of breath can be a sign of something worse; to avoid the risk of having difficulty breathing, it may be a good idea to visit a healthcare provider for immediate treatment.

  • How long does it take a broken collarbone to heal?

    In adults, a broken collarbone takes an average of 10 to 12 weeks to heal. In children and teens, it can take four to eight weeks.

  • Is collarbone pain linked to cancer?

    Collarbone pain is not always linked to cancer, but swelling around the collarbone area can be a sign of cancer or an infection. This appears in the form of lymph nodes, which can swell if infection or cancer spread to them.

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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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