The clavicle is the bone situated between the ribcage and the shoulder blade and connects the arm to the body. It is a long bone and generally most breaks occur in the middle of it, usually caused by a direct blow to the shoulder.
Clavicle fractures can be very painful and result in the following symptoms; an inability to lift the arm due to pain, a grinding sensation when trying to raise the arm, a deformity over the break as well as bruising, swelling and tenderness.
To determine the severity of the break, an X-ray of the shoulder is generally done, and in some circumstances a CT scan to see the fracture in better detail if other bones are also broken.
Non-surgical: If the broken ends of the bone have not shifted out of place and line up correctly surgery may not be required. A simple sling for comfort and support may be applied as well as some pain medication. Physiotherapy can assist in limiting any muscle strength loss and is generally commenced as the bone begins to heal to prevent stiffness and weakness and are upgraded as the fracture heals. Regular X-rays to ensure healing and alignment of the fracture are undertaken also.
Surgical: If the bones are out of place surgery may be recommended to align the bones and hold them in a good position until they heal. During this surgery, the bone fragments are realigned into the correct position and then held in place with special screws and/or metal plate. After surgery, as there is not a lot of fat over the clavicle you may be able to feel the plate through the skin. Generally the metal work is not removed, however after the fracture has healed, should the metal/screws become irritating it can be removed. Following surgery physiotherapy is used to help restore movement and strengthen the shoulder.
Whether surgical or non-surgical treatment is undertaken, it can take several months for a clavicle fracture to heal. Most people return to regular activities within three months of their injury however this will be determined by your doctor as to when it is safe to do so.