Clavicle (collarbone) fractures are usually apparent right away and can be seen through the skin. In most cases, surgery is not required.
Medical professionals generally classify clavicle fractures into three groups:
- Group I fractures occur in the middle third of the bone, where it is flat and thin. These fractures, sometimes called midshaft fractures, account for most clavicle fractures and are typically treated without surgery.
- Group II fractures, which are referred to as lateral or distal fractures, occur furthest from body’s center and near the acromion (a bony extension at the top of the shoulder). These fractures make up between 21 and 28% of clavicle fractures,1 though some estimate this percentage to be lower. Treatment may or may not involve surgery.
- Group III fractures, referred to as medial fractures, are less common and make up about 2 to 4% of all clavicle fractures.2 They occur closer to the neck. Treatment may or may not involve surgery.
Surgery is typically only recommended if it is needed to return bone fragments to their correct, anatomical position.
What Is the Clavicle?
The clavicle (or collarbone) is a long, thin bone at the base of the neck. This rigid support is located between the scapula (shoulder blade) and sternum (rib cage).
The clavicle has several roles:
- It connects the arm to the axial skeleton, or the trunk of the body.
- It assists with movement and security of upper body.
- It, along with the subclavius muscle (a chest muscle), covers and helps protect nerves and blood vessels lying beneath.
Clavicle breaks often occur in children and adults under the age of 25 due to developing bones, sports accidents, and other traumas. Clavicle fractures are also more common in older people, who tend to have decreased bone mass.
Clavicle Fracture Signs and Symptoms
A clavicle fracture is typically associated with extreme pain, and arm movement is difficult. The clavicle bone lies just beneath the skin, so a fracture usually causes an obvious protrusion or bump at the fracture site, along with swelling. (While the bump will diminish over time, a small bump may remain after the fracture heals.)
Other symptoms include:3
- Sharp pain felt at the time of injury; the injured person may feel pain when trying to move the arm.
- Stiffness in the shoulder that makes shoulder movement difficult or impossible.
- The affected shoulder sags, forward or downward.
- Swelling, tenderness, and bruising occur over the collarbone.
- A grinding sensation when trying to lift the arm.
- The desire to hold the affected arm close to the body—supporting it with the hand of the healthy arm.
If a clavicle break is suspected because of a traumatic-related event, other injuries may be present. If possible, bystanders are advised to wait for medical personnel to move the injured person.
Occasionally, a person with a broken collarbone also experiences labored breathing, which may be a sign of an injured lung. Lung injuries are associated with clavicle fractures.
See a physician immediately if symptoms of a clavicle fracture are apparent.4