Clavicle (collarbone) Fractures

Breaking the clavicle or “collarbone” occurs from a fall or direct blow to the area. Contact sports like football, rugby and ice hockey are common high risk sports. Falls while cycling, skiing and motor vehicle accidents are other common ways to fracture the clavicle. Immediately following the injury patients experience pain, swelling and limited use of the arm. X-rays are usually sufficient to make the diagnosis and initial treatment involves immobilization in a sling and use of ice and over the counter pain medications.

X-ray showing a clavicle fracture that is displaced and in multiple pieces

Treatment can be surgical or non- surgical. Non-surgical management simply lets the fracture heal in the position it is in and includes a period of immobilization. The immobilization period is typically 3-4 weeks until sufficient healing occurs so therapy can begin and pain is decreased. Non-surgical management has been the norm for a long time, however, surgical fixation or repair is gaining popularity for certain injuries.

X-ray showing clavicle plate

Surgical repair can be accomplished with a variety of devices, but usually a plate and screws has some advantages. Repair can align very displaced fractures. When the fracture is very displaced and when fragments shorten or ride over each other patients who are active tend to complain of shoulder pain and sometimes weakness or dysfunction. This can be alleviated with surgical repair. In addition, fracture healing time is shortened with surgical repair and risk of fracture not healing is lessened by surgical fixation. Use of the upper extremity is allowed much sooner following surgical repair.

In summary, clavicle fractures can be managed with or without surgery. Treatment decision is made based on fracture type, displacement and shortening. Patients activity level, age and other risk factors are taken into consideration as well. Below is a short presentation on a clavicle fracture I treated utilizing sutures and a plate to restore the anatomy and fix the fracture anatomically.

Presentation of clavicle fracture treated surgically

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