Broken collarbone - aftercare
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 include:
- 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 bulging over your collarbone
Signs of a more serious break are:
- Decreased feeling or a tingling feeling in your arm or fingers
- A deformed looking collarbone area
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 to 6 weeks. Adults may need up to 12 weeks.
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 injure 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 to 4 hours for 20 minutes each time. Do this for 2 days or longer.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
- Talk with your health care provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
- Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.
- Do not take these medicines for the first 24 hours after your injury. They can cause bleeding.
- Do not give aspirin to children.
Your health care provider may prescribe a stronger medication if you need it.
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 collarbones have 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 about how your collarbone is 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 look pale, blue, black, or white.
- It is hard to move the fingers of your affected arm.
- Your shoulder looks deformed and the bone is coming out of the skin.
Clavicle and scapula fractures. In: Eiff MP, Hatch R, eds. Fracture Management for Primary Care. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 9.
Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.