Broken Shoulder Blade
Exams and Tests
A doctor will be able to diagnose a broken shoulder blade after a thorough physical examination and imaging.
- Shoulder and chest x-rays are taken.
- CT scans of the abdomen and chest are sometimes indicated to evaluate other injuries.
- CT scans of the shoulder are sometimes needed to diagnose fractures of the shoulder socket (glenoid).
- Fractures of the scapula are sometimes discovered during extensive evaluations after major trauma from falls, motor vehicle accidents, or direct trauma.
Broken Shoulder Blade Treatment Self-Care at Home
Because shoulder blade fractures are often associated with severe, potentially life-threatening injuries, they should be evaluated in a hospital's emergency department.
- Immobilize the arm immediately. Don't move it. This can be accomplished with a sling looped over the neck and the bent elbow, which holds the affected arm close to the body.
- Apply ice to the area to reduce swelling and discomfort.
- Apply ice for 20 minutes at a time, and avoid direct contact of the ice to the skin.
The goal of treatment is to maintain function of the shoulder. Most fractures of the body of the scapula are treated without surgery.
- Ice is used for swelling, and pain medications are used for pain control.
- The shoulder is immobilized in a shoulder sling for 3-4 weeks until the pain goes away.
Surgical treatment may be needed for certain types of scapular fractures, mostly those involving the shoulder socket (glenoid) or neck of the shoulder blade. Early consultation with an orthopedic surgeon (a surgeon who specializes in bone injuries) will help determine what course of treatment is best for you.
Early physical therapy with exercises designed to improve the range of shoulder motion are started about one week after the injury. It is important to start these exercises early to avoid a frozen shoulder. A loss of motion in the shoulder can occur if the shoulder is not used for a prolonged period.
Next Steps Follow-up
Broken shoulder blades should receive ongoing treatment by an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist to ensure proper healing.
- Follow the instructions you are given when you leave the hospital and avoid potential trauma while recovering.
- Pain medications and immobilization will likely be needed to control pain while early in the recovery period.
Broken shoulder blades can be prevented by avoiding high-risk activities such as the following:
- Activities with potential for falls from significant heights such as rock climbing, hang-gliding, or skydiving
- Contact sports
- Driving without a seatbelt
Most fractures of the shoulder blade heal without complications within 6-8 weeks. Fractures that involve the shoulder socket or scapular neck develop more complications.
- Complications may include the following:
- Loss of range of motion
- Loss of strength
- Persistent pain
- Early arthritis
- Many people with scapular fractures have other serious injuries, and their prognosis depends on the nature of these other injuries.