Clavicle fracture (broken collarbone)

We can help get your arms moving again

Clavicle fractures (broken collarbones) account for approximately five percent of all fractures and can be very painful. Our experts at Schoen Clinic specialise in the treatment of fractures and will explore the best possible treatment for you. Sometimes a simple broad arm sling can help to reduce the pain that you are experiencing by holding the fracture in a better position. Occasionally, surgery will be necessary to effectively resolve your condition.

What is a broken collarbone?

A clavicle fracture is a break in the collarbone, one of the main bones in the shoulder. Most clavicle fractures occur when there is a fall onto the shoulder or an outstretched arm. A broken collarbone can be very painful and can make it hard to move your arm.

In most cases, these fractures can be treated by wearing a sling to elevate the arm and shoulder keeping the bone aligned whilst it heals. However, if the bone fragments are out of position, surgery may be needed to realign the bone.

Symptoms of a broken collarbone

A clavicle fracture can be very painful and may make it difficult to move your arm. Other features may include:
  • Sagging of the shoulder downward and forward
  • Inability to lift your arm because of pain
  • A deformity or "bump" over the break
  • Bruising, swelling, and/or tenderness over the collarbone
  • A clicking sensation as the fracture fragments move

Causes: How do clavicle fractures occur?

Clavicle fractures are most often caused by a direct blow to the shoulder. This can happen during a fall onto the shoulder or a car collision. A fall onto an outstretched arm can also cause a clavicle fracture. They are common injuries sustained falling from a bicycle, or during sports activities like playing rugby or skiing.

Diagnosis

Examination will determine the site of the injury and ensure that the fracture fragments have not pierced the skin.

X-rays are required to make the diagnosis and help decide on the best form of treatment. A CT scan may be helpful in defining the position or the number of fragments present.

Simple treatment options

If the broken ends of the bone are well-aligned you may only need an appropriate sling. However, surgery may be needed if the broken ends of the bone have significantly shifted out of position or if the skin is tented or pierced. Surgery typically involves putting the broken pieces of bone back into position and preventing them from moving out of place until they are healed. This can improve the success of healing and improve shoulder strength and function when you have recovered.

Arm support, medication and physiotherapy

  • Arm support – a simple broad arm sling is usually used for comfort immediately after the break and to keep your arm and shoulder in position while the fracture heals. This is designed to lift the elbow and shoulder keeping the fracture well-aligned.
  • Medication – can help relieve pain as the fracture heals.
  • Physiotherapy – although there will be some discomfort, it is important to maintain some motion to prevent stiffness. Patients can begin doing exercises for the hand, wrist and elbow soon after the injury. Once the fracture has healed we can rehabilitate you and your shoulder to return to full strength and function. This may take some months.

ORIF Surgery

Your surgeon will discuss the details of your surgery with you. Open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) is the procedure most often used to treat clavicle fractures. During the procedure, the bone fragments are first repositioned (reduced) into their normal alignment. The pieces of bone are then held in place with special metal hardware. After being repositioned into their normal alignment, the bone fragments are held in place with special screws and metal plates attached to the outer surface of the bone.

After surgery you may notice a small area of numbness below the incision, this will become less noticeable with time. The clavicle lies directly under the skin, you may therefore be able to feel the plate through your skin once the swelling reduces. The plate can be removed if you wish but only after two years once the fracture has consolidated.

Aftercare & recovery

Fractures will usually unite over a 6-8 week period however your shoulder should feel much more comfortable after as little as 2-3 weeks, particularly if surgery has been performed. Plates and screws are not routinely removed after the bone has healed, unless they are causing discomfort. Problems with the hardware are not common, but some patients find that seatbelts and backpacks can irritate the collarbone area. If this happens, the hardware can be removed after the fracture has healed.

Clavicle fractures: Our specialists

Highly experienced specialists at Schoen Clinic London treat all aspects of shoulder and upper limb conditions. With experts at the forefront of their fields you can rest assured you are in safe hands.

Clavicle fractures: Our specialised hospital

From diagnosis to treatment and rehabilitation, your journey as a patient with us is planned and put into practice with your best possible outcome in mind. Based in the heart of London, Schoen Clinic is home to some of the finest specialists in orthopaedic, spinal and sports injury, working together as a multidisciplinary team, putting you at the centre of your care.