The clavicle or collarbone lies on the front of the chest between the shoulder and the sternum. This bone connects the upper extremity to the torso. Clavicle fractures and collarbone injuries typically occur after a fall onto an outstretched arm or after landing directly onto the shoulder.
A patient with a clavicle fracture typically comes to clinic after suffering a blow to the shoulder, or after landing on the shoulder. Most of our patients suffer a clavicle fracture after a fall while snowboarding, skiing, or cycling. Patients typically have pain in the shoulder, or clavicle region, with some associated bruising and swelling. It may be difficult to move or lift the arm and the shoulder may slump down. Oftentimes the bone can push up on the skin from below. When this occurs we say that the fracture is “tenting the skin”.
The clavicle is the bone that connects the sternum in the chest to the shoulder blade. The function of this bone is to stabilize upper extremity movement and assist with shoulder stability. The clavicle is a curved bone and typically breaks right in the center. Occasionally fractures occur closer to the shoulder. When that occurs the fracture may be at a higher risk for not healing or displacing.
Collarbone Fracture Treatment
Treatment for clavicle fractures has traditionally been non-operative, however some patients will benefit significantly from clavicle stabilization surgery to fix a broken collarbone. We typically recommend surgery for a clavicle fracture if the bone fragments are separated significantly, or if the bone fragments are overlapped. Some patients elect to have operative treatment of their clavicle fracture because they desire to get back to work and sports more quickly, or if they are in severe pain.
Fractured Collarbone Recovery
After surgery to repair a fractured clavicle or broken collarbone, patients are placed in a sling. This is worn for the first month. More normal activities and arm movement can begin after one month, while avoiding heavy lifting, and excessive overhead activity. Most patients feel mostly better after 12 weeks. Physical therapy is utilized if range of motion is lacking after that initial month of inactivity.
If you have suffered a collarbone injury and can be seen in the Edwards, Vail or Frisco Colorado area, request a consultation with Dr. Dorf. He is a team physician for the US ski team and specializes in getting athletes to a place where they can continue to do what they love.