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A broken collarbone is a common injury and is most likely to occur when someone falls heavily onto their shoulder or onto an outstretched arm.
A broken collarbone which may also be known as a fractured or broken clavicle, causes shoulder pain. It can take up to two months to heal. Treatment usually is to immobilise the shoulder and arm. Once the break has healed people often find it helpful to wear a shoulder support.
The collarbone is a slender bone that runs from the breastbone, just below the neck, to each of the shoulders. It is connected to the shoulder blades and the breastbone by ligaments.
Acute shoulder pain is the first likely sign that you have fractured your collarbone. There may also be swelling and bruising and a bump along the collarbone itself at the site of the fracture. In the unlikely event that the fractured pieces of bone have pierced the skin, there may also be some bleeding. The shoulder, no longer supported by the collarbone, may also have collapsed downwards. There may also have been a snap or grinding sound as the bone fractured. You will want to hold your arm, keeping it still, in order to lessen the pain.
It is important to see your GP straight away who will tell you if there has been a fracture. You will be referred to a hospital for an X-ray to confirm the injury. Broken collarbones are usually allowed to heal naturally which is likely to take from six to eight weeks. You will be fitted with a triangular sling which will hold the broken bone in place and support your arm while the break heals. You will also be given painkillers to reduce your shoulder pain.
Surgery may be necessary if the fracture is severe and the fractured pieces overlap significantly or have broken the skin. In these cases the bones are often held together with a plate and screws
While collarbones usually heal relatively quickly, it can take a similar period again for the shoulder and arm to recover their full strength. A physiotherapist will show you some gentle exercises to do at home to maintain movement in your elbow, wrist and hand joints while the bone is healing. This will also help to relieve shoulder pain and to build up strength in the affected shoulder once again.
A fractured clavicle often heals quickly for children, usually over a period of two to three weeks because there is unlikely to be much displacement of the two fractured pieces of bone.
You may find that wearing a shoulder support helps to reduce any shoulder pain and anxiety that you might feel when you return to sport.