Treatment for Your Broken Shoulder

Medically Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on May 26, 2023
2 min read

See your doctor right away if you fall and hurt your shoulder. If it's broken, quick treatment can speed your recovery.

First, your doctor will carefully check the injury to see where and how bad it is. So expect a physical exam and an X-ray. After that, you may need to get a CT scan, which is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures inside your body.

Your doctor will then suggest a treatment plan. It depends on the location of your break. Your shoulder is made up of three bones, and a fracture usually involves one of them:

  • Shoulder blade (scapula)
  • Collarbone (clavicle)
  • Arm bone (humerus)

Here's what to expect with each kind of fracture:

Shoulder blade. It's protected by your chest and layers of muscle, so a fracture there isn't that common. But if you do break it, you probably won't need surgery. Instead, your doctor will give you a sling that holds your arm in place and keeps it still while the bone heals. You can also expect a prescription for pain medicine and instructions to apply ice.

If the break is in both the shoulder blade and another part of your shoulder, you may need an operation. A surgeon uses plates and screws to put the bones into place and hold them together.

Collarbone. It usually heals without surgery. Your doctor may fit you with a sling to hold your arm still.

If the bone comes through the skin, or if it's fractured in more than one place, you may need an operation. Just like with shoulder surgery, your doctor will need to hold it together with plates, screws, or pins.

Arm bone. It's the area closest to your shoulder. A break there can heal without surgery if the bones haven't shifted apart. You'll need to wear a sling while it heals.

If the break is serious, a surgeon will put in pins, plates, and screws. In some cases, you might need a total shoulder replacement.

Your shoulder has a lot of work to do in order to heal. First, the bones have to grow back together just right. Then they need to regain their strength. Finally, they must be able to work like they used to. To help your shoulder accomplish all those tasks, your doctor may refer you to a specialist like one of these:

  • Physiatrist, a doctor trained in nerve, muscle, and bone recovery
  • Physical therapist, who uses movement and exercises to help you get your shoulder back to normal
  • Occupational therapist, who helps you do your day-to-day activities as you heal

Your risk of breaking a bone is greater after a fracture, so take extra care. Your doctor will go over ways to avoid falls. For instance, they may suggest you:

  • Keep good posture.
  • Avoid risky activities.
  • Do bone-strengthening exercises.