What is a shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture?

A fracture is a broken bone. A fracture in the shoulder can impact the collarbone (clavicle), top of the upper arm bone (proximal humerus) or shoulder blade (scapula).

Causes of shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

Shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fractures are caused by a direct blow, falls, car crashes or other accidents. The scapula is difficult to fracture because it is protected by the chest and surrounding muscles. Typically, fractures to the scapula are caused by high-impact trauma and often occur with other injuries to the chest.

Risk factors for shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

  • Low bone mass
  • People who are predisposed to falls
  • Medical conditions such as diabetes, epilepsy or depression

Symptoms of shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

The most common symptoms of a shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture are:
  • Pain, swelling or bruising
  • Difficulty moving the shoulder
  • Grinding sensation when moving the shoulder
  • Deformity in the shoulder area
Specific symptoms by type of shoulder fracture include:

Clavicle fracture (fracture in the collarbone)

  • Swelling in the middle of the collarbone area
  • Reduced or limited range of motion
  • A “bump” under the skin that is the end of the fracture
  • Pain when lifting the arm

Proximal humerus fracture (fractured head of the upper arm bone)

  • Swollen shoulder
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Severe pain

Scapular fracture (fracture in the shoulder blade)

  • Severe pain and swelling
  • Severe bruising around the shoulder blade
  • Diagnosis of a shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

Diagnosis of shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

If you suspect you have a shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture, visit a Mercy Health emergency room right away.

Your doctor will take a medical history to determine how the injury occurred, what your symptoms are and what movements make your symptoms worse.

A shoulder or upper extremity fracture can be diagnosed with x-rays of the shoulder area in combination with a physical exam. In some cases, your provider may order a CT scan as well.

Treatment of shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

Treatments for clavicle (collarbone) fractures
Nonsurgical treatments are typically the standard of care for clavicle fractures. Surgery is necessary with compound fractures where the bone is out of place or has broken through the skin. Surgery for a clavicle fracture involves repairing the fracture with screws or plates inside the affected bones.

Treatments for scapula (shoulder blade) fractures
Scapula fractures are often treated with nonsurgical treatment options including rest, ice, immobilization and anti-inflammatory and pain medications.

Surgery is required in approximately 15% of scapula fractures. Scapula fractures that require surgery typically involve fractures of other areas of the shoulder. The surgery will repair the fracture with plates and screws in the bones.

Treatments for proximal humerus (upper arm) fractures
If bone fragments have not been displaced, a proximal humerus fracture can be treated without surgery. Your doctor will likely prescribe a sling to immobilize the upper arm in combination with rest and anti-inflammatory medications.

If surgery is required, your orthopedic surgeon can repair the fracture with plates, screws and pins.

Recovery from a shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture

Recovery after a shoulder, collarbone or upper arm fracture can take weeks (mild shoulder fractures) to months. If the injury is not severe, your shoulder may function normally after four to six weeks.

Regardless if you have had surgical or nonsurgical treatments, you will be advised to immobilize the shoulder early in the treatment plan and then start a physical therapy/rehabilitation program. Exercises, as a part of a structured rehabilitation program, can help you improve range of motion, decrease stiffness and regain muscle strength.

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