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Broken Collarbone (Clavicle)

Clavicle fractures -- also called simply broken collarbones -- are a familiar woe to many athletes. Despite the name, the collarbone isn't really in your neck. Instead, it's one of two long, thin bones that connect the breastbone to your shoulder blades. You can feel or see your collarbones toward the top of your chest, running beneath the top of your shoulders.

So how do people get broken collarbones? Usually, it's from an accident. You might get hit or fall on your shoulder. Or you could fall on your hand or arm, and the force of impact is transferred up to the collarbone, which snaps. Clavicle fractures are often associated with bicycle falls.

What Does a Broken Collarbone Feel Like?

A broken collarbone is usually pretty obvious. You might feel a crack when it happens. Afterward, you will probably have:

  • Pain and swelling
  • Difficulty moving your arm and shoulder
  • A grinding feeling when you try to raise your arm
  • Sagging in your shoulder
  • A bump around the area of the break

To diagnose a broken collarbone, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. You will need X-rays to confirm the break.

What's the Treatment for a Broken Collarbone?

Usually, a broken collarbone will heal on its own. You just need to give it time.

To help speed the healing, you might need:

  • A splint or brace to keep your shoulder from moving
  • A sling for your arm, which you might use for a few days
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers, like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin which will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally unless your doctor specifically says otherwise as they may delay bone healing.
  • Range-of-motion and strengthening exercises

In rare cases -- especially when ligaments are damaged -- you may need surgery to mend a collarbone fracture.

When Will My Broken Collarbone Feel Better?

It might take six to 12 weeks for a broken collarbone to heal. But that's just a rough estimate. People recover at different speeds.

You are ready to return to your previous level of physical activity when:

  • You can move your arm and shoulder without any pain.
  • Your doctor has taken an X-ray and confirmed that the break is healed.

Remember: don't rush back into your activities too soon. If you start working out before your collarbone is healed, you could break it again.

How Can I Prevent a Broken Collarbone?

Collarbone fractures are tough to prevent, since they usually happen during accidental falls. Even the best-trained athletes can slip sometimes. Still, you should always take precautions to exercise safely.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on July 19, 2014

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