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How Serious Is a Broken Collarbone? Treatment & Complications

how serious is a broken collarbone
A broken collarbone is a common injury. But most collarbone fractures heal completely within a few months with no complications

In general, a broken collarbone or clavicle generally heals completely within a few months and usually doesn’t cause any serious complications. 

Even when a broken collarbone is not perfectly aligned, it generally heals well without causing any significant deformity. This is because the collarbone is covered by a thick outer layer called the periosteum, which acts like a sleeve that holds the broken bone together as it heals. 

However, sometimes surgery may be needed, especially in cases where there are a lot of misalignments of broken pieces that cannot be corrected conservatively. So it’s always important to seek medical attention for a broken collarbone to ensure that the injury is properly treated.

What are potential complications of a broken collarbone?

Although uncommon, a broken collarbone may cause the following complications:

  • Bleeding (if the fractured bone pierces a blood vessel)
  • Nerve injury (if the fractured bone damages a nerve)
  • Bump at the site where the fracture occurred
  • Osteoarthritis (if the fracture involves the joint between the collarbone and the shoulder or the one between the collarbone and the breastbone or sternum)
  • Infection (if there is an open fracture caused by a sharp portion of the fractured collarbone piercing the skin’s surface)
  • Nonunion (rare, occurs when the collarbone fragments fail to unite)
  • Lung injury (rare, occurs when a portion of the fractured collarbone penetrates the upper part of the lung)

What are the causes of a broken collarbone?

Broken collarbones or clavicles are very common, with many fractures being most often seen in males ages 13 to 20 years old. 

The collarbone connects the shoulder to the breastbone, playing an important role in the stability of the shoulder joint. It also protects the various nerves and blood vessels passing from the neck to the shoulder. 

A broken collarbone generally occurs when there is a direct contact injury to the collarbone or the outside of the shoulder:

  • Falls on the shoulder or an outstretched arm
  • Impact from contact sports, such as rugby, ice hockey, wrestling, and lacrosse
  • Automobile injuries, such as car accidents or falls from motorbikes
  • Birth injuries, which may occur in newborns as they pass through the birth canal

What are symptoms of a broken collarbone?

Symptoms of a broken collarbone generally include:

  • Pain that occurs soon after an injury to the collarbone or shoulder area
  • Swelling or bruising over the collarbone or shoulder area
  • Trouble moving the arm or shoulder on the side of injury
  • Tenderness or bruising over the fractured site
  • Grinding sensation upon moving the arm or shoulder on the affected site
  • Deformity (such as a bulge or tenting) over the fractured site
  • Numbness or tingling over the arm (rare, occurs when nerves are injured)
  • Pale or cold arm (rare, occurs when blood vessels are injured)
  • Breathing problems (rare, occurs when there is an associated lung injury)

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