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Broken collarbone - aftercare

Alternate Names

Fracture - collarbone; Fracture - clavicle

Where Is the Collarbone?

The collarbone is a long thin bone between your breastbone (sternum) and your shoulder. It is also called the clavicle.

You have 2 collarbones, 1 on each side of your breastbone. They help to keep your shoulders in line.

A broken or fractured collarbone often occurs from falling and landing on your shoulder or from stopping a fall with your outstretched arm. It can also occur from a car, motorcycle, or bicycle accident.

More about Your Injury

A broken collarbone is a common injury in young children and teenagers because these bones do not become hard until adulthood.

Symptoms of a mild broken collarbone are:

  • Having a hard time moving your shoulder or arm, and pain when you do move them
  • A shoulder that seems to be sagging
  • A cracking or grinding noise when you raise your arm
  • Bruising, swelling, or a bulge over your collarbone

Signs of a more serious break are:

  • Decreased feeling or a tingling feeling in your arm or fingers
  • Your collarbone area looks deformed.

What to Expect

The type of break you have will determine your treatment. If the bones are:

  • Aligned (meaning that the broken ends meet), the treatment is to wear a sling and relieve your symptoms. Casts are not used for broken collarbones.
  • Not aligned (meaning the broken ends do not meet),  you may need surgery.

Follow up with an orthopedist (bone doctor) is recommended for all clavicle fractures..

How long your collarbone will take to heal depends on:

  • Where the break in the bone is (in middle or at the end of the bone)
  • If the bones are aligned
  • Your age. Children may heal in 3 - 6 weeks. Adults may need up to 12 weeks.

Symptom Relief

Applying an ice pack can help relieve your pain. Make an ice pack by putting ice in a zip lock plastic bag and wrapping a cloth around it. Do no put the bag of ice directly on your skin. This could damage your skin.

On the first day of your injury, apply the ice for 20 minutes of every hour while awake. After the first day, ice the area every 3 - 4 hours for 20 minutes each time. Do this for 2 days or longer.

For pain, you can take a type of medicine called NSAIDs. You do not need a prescription for these.

  • Some examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (such as Aleve or Naprosyn). 
  • If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or bleeding, talk with your health care provider before using these medicines.
  • Do NOT give aspirin to children.
  • Avoid taking these medicines for the first 24 hours after your injury, as they may promote bleeding.

You may also take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief. If you have liver disease,talk with your health care provider before using it.

Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.

Your health care provider may prescribe a stronger medication if you need it.

Activity

At first while your collarbone is healing, you will need to wear a sling or wrap (called figure of 8 bandage). This will:

  • Keep your collarbone in the right position to heal
  • Keep you from moving your arm, which would be painful

Once you can move your arm without pain, you can start gentle exercises to increase the strength and movement in your arm. At this point, you will be able to wear your sling less.

When you restart an activity after a broken collarbone, build up slowly. If your arm, shoulder, or collarbone begins to hurt, stop and rest.

Most people are advised to avoid contact sports for a month after their collarbone has healed.

Do not place rings on your fingers until your provider tells you it is safe to do so.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider or bone doctor if you have any questions or concerns that your collarbone is not healing.

Get care right away or go to the emergency room if:

  • Your arm is numb or has a “pins and needles” feeling.
  • You have pain that does not go away with pain medicine.
  • Your fingers looks pale, blue, black, or white.
  • It is hard to move the fingers of your affected arm.

References

Clavicle and scapula fractures. In: Eiff MP, Hatch R, eds. Fracture Management for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 9.


Review Date: 6/13/2012
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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