What Is a Broken Collarbone?

Your collarbone (or clavicle) is the bone that runs horizontally between the top of your breastbone ( sternum ) and shoulder blade (scapula). You can feel your collarbone by touching the area between your neck and your shoulder. A broken collarbone, also called a clavicle fracture, is when this bone breaks.

How Does a Broken Collarbone Happen?

Falling hard on a shoulder or an outstretched arm can cause a broken collarbone.

These fractures are common in contact sports like football, wrestling, rugby, lacrosse, and hockey. They also can happen in sports where there is a chance of falling hard, such as biking, skiing, snowboarding, and skateboarding.

A collarbone also can break in a car crash or if someone is hit by a car.

Illustration: Broken Collarbone

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Broken Collarbone?

Someone who breaks a collarbone may have:

  • pain over the collarbone
  • trouble moving the arm or shoulder on that side
  • swelling, tenderness, and bruising along the collarbone
  • a bulge or "tenting" of the skin above the break

How Are Broken Collarbones Diagnosed?

To diagnose a collarbone fracture, a health care provider will:

  • ask about the injury
  • do a physical exam
  • order X-rays

How Are Collarbone Fractures Treated?

Most broken collarbones heal with ice, arm support, pain medicine, and exercises. The arm is supported either by a sling or a shoulder immobilizer. A shoulder immobilizer is like a sling but it also has a strap that goes around the waist.

While the collarbone heals:

  • Use ice for pain and swelling. Put an icepack, cold gel pack, or bag of frozen vegetables over the collarbone for 20–30 minutes every 2–3 hours. Be sure to put a towel between the ice/cold pack and your skin.
  • Use the sling or shoulder immobilizer as directed by your health care provider. You'll wear it for about a month, but can remove it during bathing and sleeping.
  • Follow your health care provider's instructions for using medicine for pain.

For about the first 4–6 weeks:

  • Avoid raising your arms above shoulder level.
  • Avoid lifting anything that weighs more than 5 pounds (2.3 kg). This is about the weight of a 72-ounce bottle of liquid laundry detergent.
  • Stay out of all sports and physical education.
  • Do all exercises to prevent elbow and shoulder stiffness and to help with muscle strength.
  • Go to physical therapy, if needed.
  • Go to all follow-up appointments.

Call your health care provider if your pain or swelling gets worse.

Will the Collarbone Heal Straight?

Even if the broken bones aren’t perfectly lined up, the body usually can make them straight again. That's because the collarbone has a thick periosteum (outer layer of the bone). The collarbone periosteum doesn't usually break, so it acts like a sleeve to hold the bone together while it heals. Rarely, the doctor might recommend surgery if the broken bones are very out of line.

Sometimes while the broken collarbone heals, there is a bump where the bone was broken. Sometimes the bump doesn't fully go away. But it doesn't hurt or cause other problems with the arm or shoulder.

When Can I Go Back to Sports?

Your health care provider will see you again and let you know when it's OK to go back to sports. This is usually when:

  • There's no pain when the health care provider presses on the collarbone.
  • Your shoulder strength is normal.
  • You can move and use the arm and shoulder without pain.
  • In general, people can go back to noncontact sports (such as running or swimming) in about 6 weeks and contact sports (such as football, lacrosse, and hockey) in 8–12 weeks.

Can Broken Collarbones Be Prevented?

Because collarbone fractures happen suddenly and unexpectedly, it can be hard to prevent them. But to decrease your risk:

  • When playing contact sports, wear all the recommended protective gear and learn the proper techniques for your sport.
  • Keep your bones strong by eating a well-balanced diet. Be sure to eat lots of vegetables and foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D to help build strong bones.
  • Do strength training and stretching to build strong, flexible muscles. Muscles that are strong and flexible will help support your bones better and keep you agile and less likely to experience a hard fall. A proper warm-up, including dynamic stretching exercises, can help your muscles perform at their best during play.
  • Wear well-fitting, supportive footwear that's right for your sport.

Looking Ahead

Most broken collarbones heal quickly and completely. Within a few months, you should be back to doing all the things you enjoyed before the injury.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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