Clavicle fractures are common in sports, with many notable athletes having experienced this type of shoulder injury. But anyone can experience a painful clavicle fracture. In fact, it is one of the most commonly fractured bones in the body.
Keep reading to learn from IBJI’s Djuro Petkovic, MD, about what causes clavicle fractures and find out about surgical and non-surgical treatments that can help your shoulder heal.
Clavicle Fractures in Sports
The NFL had some unfortunate news when Aaron Rodgers—one of the most well-known quarterbacks in the NFL—broke his collarbone and underwent surgery.
No matter which team you cheer for, no one wants to see any person, let alone a high-caliber athlete, get injured and lose their ability to work.
Rodgers is just one of many high-level athletes who have lost time due to a fractured clavicle. He broke his clavicle on the other side a few years prior but was able to return later in the season without surgery—and ended the Bears’ season in their last game.
Other examples of clavicle fractures include Patrick Kane. He lost the end of his regular season in 2013 and surgically repaired his clavicle before he heroically came back early and helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup.
There is also quarterback Tony Romo, who had multiple fractures and surgeries on his non-throwing left clavicle over the years, making him miss out on several seasons.
Any athlete who regularly falls onto their shoulder is at very high risk for shoulder injuries like clavicle fracture. In Rodgers’ case, his shoulder was driven into the ground by a defensive player.
It is also very common in cyclists who flip over the handlebars, as happened to Lance Armstrong in 2009.
Why Is Your Clavicle So Important?
The clavicle is the only linkage between your axial and appendicular skeleton, which essentially means the link between your torso and arm. It provides stability and keeps the scapula (shoulder blade) in place to position your arm in space. It also helps protect the main blood vessels and nerves traveling to your arms.
Its position and thin shape put the clavicle at risk for fracture. It is not covered by much soft tissue, leaving it vulnerable to injury without any suitable protective method. This injury not only affects athletes but has struck people from all walks of life.
Symptoms of Clavicle Fractures
The most common symptoms of clavicle fractures include:
In most cases, clavicle fractures don’t require surgery. Most of these fractures will heal without treatment, though they may heal with a slight bump.
Conservative shoulder pain treatments for clavicle fractures include:
Immobilization With a Sling or Splint
There is much debate amongst surgeons regarding when to operate on clavicles. Surgery can make healing more reliable in those with certain patterns and displacements and may also get certain people back to work and sport faster. Thus, many athletes get surgery to get back onto the field sooner if the injury has certain characteristics.
The timeline for return to sport is usually about six to 12 weeks depending on the situation. However, surgery carries more risk and will leave a scar.
Some patients will also feel that the plate and screws used to fix the fracture are too prominent, and some want another surgery to take out the hardware once the fracture heals.
Trust the Shoulder Experts at IBJI
So how does one decide on surgery or non-operative treatment for a clavicle fracture? Like many things in orthopedics, shoulder care decisions should be based on a discussion between the surgeon and the patient.
Only in some instances, such as when the broken bone is threatening the skin, does surgery become necessary. Otherwise, the treatment plan should be tailored based on your goals and lifestyle and the surgeon’s experiences with clavicle fractures.
Consult with a shoulder doctor at IBJI to discuss your treatment options if you end up suffering from this fracture.
This blog post is for general information and educational purposes only regarding musculoskeletal conditions. The information provided does not constitute the practice of medicine or other healthcare professional services, including giving medical advice, and no doctor-patient relationship is formed. Readers with musculoskeletal conditions should seek the advice of their healthcare professionals without delay for any condition they have. The use of the information is at the reader’s own risk. This content isn’t intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice from your treating healthcare professional.