The collarbone connects the breastbone to the shoulder blade. A broken collarbone is a common injury that causes pain and swelling at the break.
A broken collarbone is a common injury. The collarbone, also known as the clavicle, connects the shoulder blade to the breastbone. Common causes of a broken collarbone include falls, sports and traffic accidents. Infants sometimes break their collarbones while being born.
Seek medical help quickly for a broken collarbone. Most heal well with ice, pain relievers, a sling, physical therapy and time. Some breaks might require surgery to put plates, screws or rods into the bone to hold the pieces in place during healing.
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Symptoms of a broken collarbone include:
- Pain that increases when moving the shoulder.
- Swelling, tenderness or bruising.
- Skin over the break might look like a tent when gently pinched.
- A bump on or near the shoulder.
- A grinding or crackling sound when moving the shoulder.
- Stiffness or not being able to move the shoulder.
Newborns often will not move their arm for days after breaking the collarbone during birth and will cry if someone moves the arm.
When to see a doctor
If you notice symptoms of a broken collarbone or enough pain to prevent using the arm as usual, see a health care provider right away. Waiting to be treated can lead to poor healing.
Common causes of a broken collarbone include:
- Falls, such as falling onto the shoulder or onto an outstretched arm.
- Sports injuries, such as a direct blow to the shoulder on the field, rink or court.
- Traffic accidents, from a car, motorcycle or bike crash.
- Birth injury, usually from a difficult vaginal birth.
Teenagers and children are at higher risk of a broken collarbone than are adults. The risk goes down after age 20. Then it rises again in older people as they lose bone strength with age.
Most broken collarbones heal without difficulty. Complications, when they occur, might include:
- Nerve or blood vessel injury. Rarely, the jagged ends of a broken collarbone may injure nearby nerves and blood vessels. Seek immediate medical attention for numbness or coldness in an arm or hand.
- Poor or slow healing. A badly broken collarbone might heal slowly or not all the way. Poor joining of the bones during healing can shorten the bone.
- A lump in the bone. As part of the healing process, the place where the bone knits together forms a bony lump. The lump is easy to see because it's close to the skin. Most lumps disappear over time, but not all.
- Osteoarthritis. A fracture that involves the joints that connect the collarbone to the shoulder blade or the breastbone might increase the risk of later developing arthritis in that joint.
Dec. 10, 2022
- Clavicle fracture (broken collarbone). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/clavicle-fracture-broken-collarbone. Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
- Hatch RL, et al. Clavicle fractures. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
- Miller M, et al. Commonly encountered fractures in sports medicine. In: DeLee, Drez, and Miller's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine: Principles and Practice. 5th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
- McKee-Garrett TM. Neonatal birth injuries. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed Oct. 18, 2022.
- Shaughnessy WJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Oct. 20, 2022.
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