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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Broken collar bone (fractured clavicle)

Tāhei tāwhatiwhati

Broken collar bone is above the ribs and shoulder, under the neckA broken collar bone (also called a fractured clavicle) is a very common injury in people of all ages.

Your collar bone (clavicle) sits between your breastbone (sternum) and shoulder blade (scapula). It connects your arm to the rest of your body. It works to allow full movement in your shoulder.

Breaks are often caused by a direct blow to your shoulder. For example, if you fall onto your shoulder, fall onto an outstretched hand or have a car accident.

Symptoms of a broken collar bone

A broken collar bone can be very painful and may make it hard to move your arm. As well, you may:

Diagnosing a broken collar bone

Your doctor will listen to what happened and carefully examine your shoulder to make sure that no nerves or blood vessels are damaged.

You'll need an X-ray to show exactly where the break is, and how bad it is. You may need several X-rays of your shoulder to check for any other injuries. If other bones are broken or it looks like a complex break, you may also need a CT scan to show the breaks in better detail.

Self-care for a broken collar bone

There are some things you can do to help your recovery, whether or not you're having surgery.

In the first two weeks, it's important to regularly take off the sling and move your hands, wrist and elbow. You can do this while keeping your arm by your side and your shoulder still. Take your hand out of the sling and slowly bend and straighten your elbow. Turn your palm up to the ceiling and down to the floor. Move your wrist up and down and clench and open your fingers regularly. See the picture.

After two weeks, as the pain in your collar bone starts getting better, start working on getting your shoulder moving by doing resisting rotation, inwards and outwards exercises. When you start doing these exercises, do not push too hard with your other hand. You can gradually increase the pressure as the pain improves.

As the pain improves, add flexion and extension exercises followed by adduction and abduction exercises.

It's important not to do too much too quickly, as this could affect how well your bone heals. It's OK to feel some mild pain but if the exercise is very painful, you're probably doing too much.

Treating a broken collar bone

How a broken collar bone is treated depends on what the break looks like. Usually, it doesn't need surgery and is treated by putting your arm in a sling.

But if the broken ends have moved out of line and aren't touching or the bone is broken into lots of pieces, you may need surgery.

If you do need surgery, it will be done by an orthopaedic (bone) surgeon. The precise surgery you have will depend on what type of break you have – your surgeon will discuss details of the surgery, risks, benefits and recovery with you.

The surgery will involve some metal (a plate, screws or possibly wires) to align your collar bone properly and support it while it heals.

Surgery usually involves one night in hospital and up to six weeks in a sling. You will not be able to drive while your arm is in a sling. You'll also have a course of physiotherapy to strengthen your shoulder and get it moving again.

You'll need some weeks off work after surgery. How long will depend on the injury and the type of work you do.

While you're recovering, you should avoid lifting or carrying anything on your injured side. You should also avoid any sport or any other activity that may make your injury worse. Your surgeon will let you know when it's safe to start doing these things again.

Some people find the metal plate used in the surgery quite irritating, especially when carrying a backpack or using a seatbelt. If this happens to you, talk to your general practice team about being referred for further surgery to take the metal out once the bone has healed. This usually will not be done until at least 12 months after your surgery.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed July 2022.


See also:

ACC help after an injury

Broken bones first aid

Broken collar bone in children

Living with an injury

Page reference: 339902

Review key: HISHI-13267