It’s rare to fracture your shoulder blade (scapula). Your shoulder blade is well protected by your chest and muscles, so it takes significant force for this fracture to occur. When it does, most people have other injuries—like head damage or a chest injury. Given its potential severity, a shoulder blade fracture is one to know about.
Here are answers to four questions you may have about this fracture:
1. How do I tell if I have a shoulder blade fracture?
You will have severe pain immediately if you have a shoulder blade fracture. Pain is confined to the top of the shoulder, upper back and shoulder blade regions and you may not be able to move your arm.
Additional symptoms include:
- You may notice bruising and swelling at the top of your shoulder and on your upper back.
- Your shoulder appears disfigured, drooped, or flattened.
- You may sense weakness in your arm.
Your physician will give you a definitive diagnosis based on your physical examination and imaging tests.
2. How serious is my shoulder blade fracture?
A shoulder blade fracture can be serious, mostly because of the other injuries typically sustained at the time of fracture—like a head or spine injury. In fact, a shoulder blade fracture diagnosis is often delayed due to other serious conditions.
Experts advise people to seek emergency medical attention if you’re experience the following:
- Decreased feeling in the injured arm,
- Shortness of breath, and/or
- Abdominal pain.
Serious injury to the chest wall, neck, shoulder, or back are additional reasons for you to seek hospital treatment.
3. How do I treat a shoulder blade fracture?
Most shoulder blade fractures are treated without surgery, if your bones are in their correct positions. Nonsurgical management includes:
- Ice the injured area to decrease swelling. Cover the ice pack with a towel or cloth to prevent ice burn.
- Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
- Use a sling to help prevent movement for about 3 to 4 weeks. A shoulder immobilizer is another option: it has an extra strap that goes around your waist, which can offer more immobilization.
A strengthening program may also be added.
Stay patient when recovering from a shoulder blade fracture. It can take 6 to 12 months to completely restore shoulder motion from this injury.