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Broken Collarbone (Clavicle)

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Topic Overview

What is the collarbone?

The collarbone (clavicle) is one of the main bones of the shoulder joint camera.gif. It holds the shoulder up and, along with the shoulder blade (scapula) and acromioclavicular (AC) joint, provides stability and strength to the shoulder. The collarbone also protects nerves and blood vessels from the neck to the shoulder.

What causes a broken collarbone?

A broken collarbone is usually caused by direct contact to the collarbone or to the outside of the shoulder. This often occurs when playing sports such as football, wrestling, or ice hockey.

The collarbone is one of the most commonly broken (fractured) bones. Young men ages 13 to 20 break it most often. Younger children have greater chances of a broken collarbone during play.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a broken collarbone include:

  • Immediate pain after falling or being hit on the collarbone or in the shoulder area.
  • Inability to raise the affected arm because of pain.
  • A grinding feeling when trying to lift the affected arm.

The affected shoulder does not always appear out of position. But if a deformity is present, it appears as a bump or swelling along the collarbone or at the AC joint. The bone rarely breaks through the skin. But it may push the skin out, causing it to have a tent-shaped look.

A broken collarbone usually is not a serious injury. In rare cases, a broken collarbone can injure a lung or rib or pinch nerves or blood vessels. This may cause the arm to turn pale, tingle, and feel cool or numb.

How is a broken collarbone diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose a broken collarbone by asking you questions and examining you. Your doctor will check:

  • The affected area and look for a lump or bump.
  • Blood flow, by taking your pulse and checking your skin color and temperature.
  • For damage to your nerves and blood vessels.
  • How well you can move your shoulder and other joints.
  • The muscle strength of your shoulder.

Your doctor will usually do an X-ray to pinpoint the location and severity of the break.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 28, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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