The collarbone is considered part of the shoulder and helps connect the
arm to the body. The collarbone is a long bone, and most breaks occur
in the middle section.
It lies above several important nerves and blood vessels. However, these
vital structures are rarely injured when the collarbone breaks.
Causes of a Broken Collarbone
A broken collarbone (fractured clavicle) is a common injury among both
children and athletes. Many babies are born with collarbones that broke
during the passage down the birth canal. A child’s collarbone can
easily crack from a direct blow or fall because the collarbone doesn’t
completely harden until a person is about 20 years old. An athlete who
falls may break the collarbone because the force of the fall is transmitted
from the elbow and shoulder to the collarbone.
Broken Collarbone Symptoms
Symptoms of a broken collarbone include sagging of the shoulder (down and
forward), an inability to lift the arm because of pain, or a deformity
or “bump” over the fracture site. Sometimes there may be a
grinding sensation if an attempt is made to raise the arm. Although a
fragment of bone rarely breaks through the skin, it may push the skin
into a “tent” formation.
Broken Collarbone Treatment Options
Most broken collarbones heal well with conservative treatment and surgery
is rarely necessary. A simple arm sling can usually be used to immobilize
the arm. A child may have to wear the sling for 3 to 4 weeks; an adult
may have to wear it for 6 to 8 weeks. Depending on the location of the
break, your physician may apply a figure-of-eight strap to help maintain
Analgesics such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications
such as aspirin or ibuprofen will help reduce pain. Range of motion and
strengthening exercises can begin as soon as the pain subsides. However,
you should not return to sports activities until full shoulder strength returns.
In rare cases, depending on the location of the break and the involvement
of shoulder ligaments, surgery is needed. Surgery usually gives good results.