The clavicle, also referred to as the collar bone, connects the arm to the torso at the sternum. Clavicles have a slightly S shape and are located above the first rib on either side of the body. They are some of the most commonly fractured bones. Though strong in their purpose of stabilizing the shoulder, they are notoriously weak when pressure is applied from the side. Most commonly, clavicles are broken during a fall on the shoulder or from a fall on an outstretched arm. They can also be broken from direct contact, such as in a motor vehicle accident.
Fractured Clavicle Diagnosis
Sometimes determining whether a person has a broken clavicle or not is easy. But, as with any injury, the varying level of injury coincides with the difficulty or ease of diagnosis. If someone has been injured and suspects that their clavicle may be fractured, a visit to their healthcare provider an and X-ray will clear up any doubt. According to the National Library of Medicine, the following signs and symptoms can help determine between a broken clavicle and other forms of injury:
- Difficulty moving the shoulder or arm;
- Pain when moving the shoulder or arm;
- A sagging shoulder;
- A grinding or cracking noise when the shoulder or arm are moved;
- Bruising, bulging, or swelling of the collarbone;
- Tingling, numbness, or decreased feeling of the arm or fingers; and/or
- Deformed collarbone.
Another common injury that often accompanies a broken collarbone or can be confused for a broken collarbone is a separated shoulder. According to the Mayo Clinic, a separated shoulder involves damage to the ligaments surrounding the shoulder joint. Less severe shoulder separation involves the stretching of the ligaments, while a severely separated shoulder may involve ligaments that are fully ruptured. Most patients with a separated shoulder do not require surgery. Often, mildly broken collarbones do not require surgery. However, seeking medical attention for an injured shoulder or collarbone is important because many other cases of broken clavicles do require surgery to realign the bones.
Recovery Process Involved in a Broken Clavicle
The recovery process completely depends on the severity and type of fracture to the clavicle. If the bones are aligned, surgery is not required. General treatment includes the use of a sling for a period of weeks up to two months. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound may speed up the healing process by 24 to 42 percent by encouraging calcium deposits to harden, according to a 2010 study as well as recent successful uses in the medical field. Using or purchasing such ultrasound machines can be incredibly expensive, however.
If the fractured bone segments to not align, surgery is most likely needed. In the event of surgery, titanium screws and plates are used to realign the two bones. Surgery, if needed, greatly increases the use of the affected arm once healing has taken place. In both scenarios, healing time depends on the fracture and the age and health of the injured person. Children can heal between three and six weeks, while adults may need eight to twelve weeks for full recovery. Physical therapy may be necessary once healed to regain movement and strength.
Complications in Collarbone Breaks
In the scenario where the jagged ends of the collarbone sever nearby blood vessels and nerves, it is vital to seek out the nearest hospital as soon as possible. Symptoms of damaged nerves include numbness or a cold sensation in your arm or hand. A less severe implication of a broken collarbone occurs during healing. Often, a large lumpy deposit of calcium will form during the healing process. Because the collarbone is up against the skin with no muscle and little subcutaneous tissue, a permanent or short-term lump can be seen very easily. In the event of a poorly done surgery, no surgery at all when surgery is required, or poor healing, the union of the two bone pieces may not align proprly. This can shorten the bone or put the shoulder at an odd angle. Finally, a fracture at the joints that connect the collarbone to the shoulder blade may later increase your risk of developing osteoarthritis. If you have suffered a broken collarbone from a work incident, premises accident, car collision, or other scenario where you were not at fault, you may be entitled to damages to help pay for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney today for a free consultation to learn about your legal options.