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Broken collarbone - aftercare

The collarbone is a long, thin bone between your breastbone (sternum) and your shoulder. It is also called the clavicle. You have two collarbones, one on each side of your breastbone. They help to keep your shoulders in line.

You have been diagnosed with a broken collarbone. Follow your health care provider's instructions on how to care for your broken bone. Use the information below as a reminder.

Where is the Collarbone?

A broken or fractured collarbone often occurs from:

  • Falling and landing on your shoulder
  • Stopping a fall with your outstretched arm
  • Car, motorcycle, or bicycle accident

More About Your Injury

A broken collarbone is a common injury in young children and teenagers. This is because these bones DO NOT become hard until adulthood.

Symptoms of a mild broken collarbone include:

  • Pain where the broken bone is
  • Having a hard time moving your shoulder or arm, and pain when you do move them
  • A shoulder that seems to be sagging
  • A cracking or grinding noise when you raise your arm
  • Bruising, swelling, or bulging over your collarbone

Signs of a more serious break are:

  • Decreased feeling or a tingling feeling in your arm or fingers
  • Bone that is pushing against or through the skin

What to Expect

The type of break you have will determine your treatment. If the bones are:

  • Aligned (meaning that the broken ends meet), the treatment is to wear a sling and relieve your symptoms. Casts are not used for broken collarbones.
  • Not aligned (meaning the broken ends do not meet), you may need surgery.

If you have a broken collarbone, you should follow up with an orthopedist (bone doctor).

Healing of your collarbone depends on:

  • Where the break in the bone is (in middle or at the end of the bone).
  • If the bones are aligned.
  • Your age. Children may heal in 3 to 6 weeks. Adults may need up to 12 weeks.

Symptom Relief

Applying an ice pack can help relieve your pain. Make an ice pack by putting ice in a zip lock plastic bag and wrapping a cloth around it. DO NOT put the bag of ice directly on your skin. This could injure your skin.

On the first day of your injury, apply the ice for 20 minutes of every hour while awake. After the first day, ice the area every 3 to 4 hours for 20 minutes each time. Do this for 2 days or longer.

For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.

  • Talk with your provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
  • DO NOT take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your provider.
  • DO NOT take these medicines for the first 24 hours after your injury. They can cause bleeding.
  • DO NOT give aspirin to children.

Your provider may prescribe a stronger medicine if you need it.

Activity

At first you need to wear a sling or brace as the bone heals. This will keep:

  • Your collarbone in the right position to heal
  • You from moving your arm, which would be painful

Once you can move your arm without pain, you can start gentle exercises if your provider says it's OK. These will increase the strength and movement in your arm. At this point, you will be able to wear your sling or brace less.

When you restart an activity after a broken collarbone, build up slowly. If your arm, shoulder, or collarbone begins to hurt, stop and rest.

Most people are advised to avoid contact sports for a few months after their collarbones have healed.

DO NOT place rings on your fingers until your provider tells you it is safe to do so.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider or orthopedist if you have questions or concerns about the healing of your collarbone.

Get care right away or go to the emergency room if:

  • Your arm is numb or has a pins and needles feeling.
  • You have pain that does not go away with pain medicine.
  • Your fingers look pale, blue, black, or white.
  • It is hard to move the fingers of your affected arm.
  • Your shoulder looks deformed and the bone is coming out of the skin.

Alternative Names

Collarbone fracture - aftercare; Clavicle fracture - aftercare; Clavicular fracture

References

Andermahr J, Ring D, Jupiter JB. Fractures and dislocations of clavicle. In: Browner BD, Jupiter JB, Krettek C, Anderson PA, eds. Skeletal Trauma: Basic Science, Management, and Reconstruction. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 49.

Naples RM, Ufberg JW. Management of common dislocations. In: Roberts JR, Custalow CB, Thomsen TW, eds. Roberts & Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine and Acute Care. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 49.

Review Date 4/9/2018

Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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