A clavicle fracture is a break in the collarbone. You have two clavicles, each connecting a shoulder to the upper chest. Broken collarbones are common, often happening from a fall, sports injury or car accident. Although a broken clavicle is painful, most people don’t need surgery. Physical therapy can help reduce stiffness and rebuild strength.
A clavicle fracture is a break in the collarbone. You have two clavicles — long, slender, S-shaped bones connecting the shoulders to the upper chest. Broken collarbones are common, making up about 5% of all adult bone fractures.
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A collarbone can crack in one place or break into several pieces (comminuted fracture). The broken pieces may still line up or may end up out of place (displaced fracture).
A clavicle breaks when force or pressure causes it to snap. Common causes are:
If you break your collarbone, you may experience:
If you think you’ve broken your clavicle, seek immediate medical attention. A healthcare provider will:
If the healthcare provider thinks there’s damage to a joint or artery, you may get more tests:
If you think you broke your collarbone, take these steps immediately:
Most clavicle fractures don’t need surgery. If the broken parts of the bone are in a good position to heal, healthcare providers may recommend:
Sometimes you need surgery to treat a broken collarbone, like when:
Surgery to treat a clavicle fracture is called open reduction and internal fixation. The operation puts broken pieces of collarbone back where they belong (reduction). It then uses metal devices to keep the pieces in place (fixation). An orthopaedic surgeon (specialist in bone and muscle injuries) may perform the procedure using:
Clavicle fractures happen suddenly and are difficult to prevent. But certain things can help keep your bones safer:
Most collarbone fractures heal in six to eight weeks, without surgery or complications. Most people are able to start getting back to normal activities by three months or so, but full recovery may take up to six to 12 months.
You may feel a bump where the fracture healed. The bump may get smaller on its own over time, but it might never go away completely. You may also have less strength in your shoulder and arm. But unless you have other injuries, you can often return to normal activities within a few weeks.
If you have surgery, you may feel the plate or other hardware inside your body. You’ll also have limited use of your arm for six to eight weeks. After that, you can start using it for normal daily activities such as bathing, dressing and eating. You should wait for your healthcare provider’s permission before doing things that involve lifting, pulling or pushing. You should also wait to play sports. In general, recovery is similar to treating a broken clavicle without surgery with return to normal activity around three months or so and full recovery up to six to 12 months after surgery.
While your break heals, you should follow-up with your surgeon or other healthcare provider to make sure you don’t have complications. Complications after surgery may include:
Whether you have surgery or not, you should go to all your follow-up appointments. At those checkups, your healthcare provider will:
You should also follow all exercise advice from your healthcare provider and physical therapist. Physical therapy can be slow and uncomfortable, but it’s important if you want to return to your normal activities.
In the first few weeks of physical therapy, you will do gentle exercises to help prevent stiffness and pain. You will eventually start exercises with light weights and stretchy bands. Once the bone fragments rejoin, you will do more aggressive strength training.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A clavicle fracture is a break in the collarbone that’s often painful. Most people don’t need surgery, but some require an operation to put the pieces of bone back in place. Physical therapy is important to get you back to daily activities. Talk to your healthcare provider about exercises to reduce pain and stiffness and regain strength.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/04/2020.
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