A collarbone fracture is a fairly common problem, accounting for nearly five percent of all adult bone breakages or fractures. In addition to the swelling, a collarbone fracture can make it challenging to move your hand or perform your usual duties or chores because of the bothersome pain.
While many collarbone fractures are treatable with a sling to reduce hand movements, some could require surgery to realign your collarbone. A reliable physical therapist can help you determine the severity of the fracture and the appropriate treatment to fix the problem as soon as possible.
At Suarez Physical Therapy, we understand the complications and disabilities a collarbone fracture can cause in your life. If you have a collarbone fracture, our experienced and skilled physical therapists can offer effective treatment and exercise plans to help you return to your usual daily activities as soon as possible.
A Collarbone Fracture at a Glance
Also commonly known as a clavicle fracture, this is a common injury that can occur to anyone, including adults and children. Your clavicle is the long, S-shaped bone that connects your breastbone to the shoulder blade (scapula), allowing your arm to swing away from the body. The clavicle also protects numerous important blood vessels and nerves that travel along your neck to the shoulder area.
Because of its location in your body and low tolerance to deformity, any significant force or direct impact on the shoulder region can break or fracture it. Below are some of the most common causes of clavicle fractures among most people:
- Trauma when your arm is outstretched, for instance, during sporting activities
- Falls onto your extended arm or clavicle
- Direct hit or impact on your clavicle, for example, in an auto accident
In an infant or baby, a collarbone fracture can occur during its passage through the birth canal. Depending on the nature of the cause of the direct impact or blow to your shoulder region, the clavicle fracture could be severe or minor.
Regardless of the cause of the direct blow to your shoulder, it is a brilliant idea to talk to a physical therapist or doctor if you believe you have a clavicle fracture for a thorough examination and treatment.
Symptoms of Collarbone Fracture
Generally speaking, a collarbone fracture can be very painful, making it challenging to move your arm and perform daily activities or play your favorite sport. Other symptoms you could experience when you fracture or break your collarbone include the following:
- Grinding or snapping noise or sensation when you move your arm
- Swelling, tenderness, and bruising on the shoulder area
- Numbness in your shoulder area
- Stiffness on your shoulder area
- A bump on or near the shoulder area
- Bone poking through your skin
What to Do if You Notice Any or All of the Above Symptoms of Collarbone Fracture
If you think you have a collarbone fracture, it is a brilliant idea to take the right steps as soon as possible because the problem could worsen over time. Below are some of the critical steps to take when you notice any of the possible symptoms of a collarbone fracture to speed up the healing process:
- Put the affected arm in a special bandage or sling to lessen its movements
- Apply ice wrapped on a cloth on the affected area for twenty to thirty minutes at a time to reduce swelling and bothersome pain
- Take OTC (over-the-counter) anti-inflammatory and painkiller medications like ibuprofen and naproxen.
- Call a physical therapist or go to his/her emergency room
Diagnostic Procedures for Collarbone Fracture
When you visit a physical therapist or healthcare provider, he/she will conduct some diagnostic tests to determine the severity of your collarbone fracture and the precise area of the injury. First, he/she will ask you relevant questions about your health history, how the injury occurred, and the symptoms you are experiencing.
After receiving the answers that he/she needs during the short interview, your physical therapist will:
Examine the Injury Area
To determine whether your nerves were damaged when the fracture occurred, your physical therapist could ask you to move your arm up and down to determine the position which triggers more pain. The physical examination will also focus on other areas of your body that could have changed due to the clavicle injury.
Another reason for the physical examination as a diagnostic procedure is to determine the specific areas that need treatment to improve your condition as soon as possible.
Take X-rays of the Injured Shoulder Area
For more precise details of the fracture’s location, its severity, and whether or not other bones were affected, your physical therapist could require X-ray pictures of your shoulder area. If your physical therapist believes there is a possible artery or joint damage, he/she could require more comprehensive imaging tests, including:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scans, which give more detailed images than X-rays
- Arteriography which uses dye and X-ray to see inside your arteries
- Ultrasound technology, which uses sound waves to create images of what is happening in your body
What a Physical Therapist Can Do to Help Treat Your Collarbone Fracture
Depending on the severity of your injury, your physical therapist could recommend or surgical treatment to manage your condition. Here is what you need to know about these treatment options respectively:
Generally, most collarbone fracture issues do not require surgery to treat. If the fractured parts of the clavicle are still in position and aligned, your physical therapist could recommend any or all of the following non-surgical treatment options or remedies:
Your therapist could recommend wearing a sling to hang your hand and make you feel more comfortable as you recuperate. A sling also helps keep your arm in place to prevent the fractured bones from shifting around during the healing process.
Pain Management Medication
OTC medications like acetaminophen can help relieve pain as your collarbone fracture heals. Some therapists or doctors could recommend strong medications like opium for a short duration. However, these drugs are only recommended if necessary because they come with the risk of addiction.
Your therapist could also use his/her hands to gently move your shoulder muscles and joints to help improve your range of motion. The hands-on therapy is also necessary to guide the affected joints into a less strainful and stressful movement pattern. Your therapist could also use his/her hands to apply resistance as you do targeted exercises to strengthen the affected muscles.
Range of Motion Exercises
Often, most patients with collarbone fractures can begin doing exercises to improve the range of motion in the elbow immediately after sustaining the injury. However, if the pain is severe, your physical therapist will recommend that you commence exercises once the pain lessens.
Your therapist will teach you various self-stretching exercises to help reduce tension and restore normal movements of the joints in your shoulder and upper arm.
Muscle imbalances and weaknesses can contribute to the ongoing symptoms. Your therapist can design a safe strength training program for your unique condition, which will likely include your core (midsection), shoulder area, and upper arm. Your muscle-strengthening program could include performing exercises in different positions and angles, including lying on your back and standing.
The exercises your therapist recommends depend on various factors, including injury severity, age, pain level, restrictions, and fitness.
Once your collarbone fracture heals completely and your range of motion improves, you can start more strenuous exercises to strengthen your shoulder muscles. You should learn and practice controlled and safe movements to minimize stress on the healing collarbone fracture.
Your physical therapist will show you the appropriate exercises that will work best for your unique collarbone fracture to speed up the healing process and resume your daily activities as soon as possible.
Follow Up Care
Even if you can recuperate at home, your therapist will require you to schedule frequent appointments to monitor the healing process of your collarbone. During follow-up appointments, your therapist will examine the injury site and take X-ray pictures to ensure the bone is healing correctly in the ideal position.
Once the bone heals completely, you can gradually return to your daily chores and favorite sporting activities.
While it is rare, surgery could be necessary to treat your collarbone fracture. The primary goal of this treatment is to achieve a healed collarbone fracture in a normal anatomical position as soon as possible. Some of the reasons or indicators that can make your therapist recommend surgery to treat your clavicle fracture include the following:
- Blood vessel and nerve injuries
- Pieces of the fractured collarbone are misaligned
- Open fracture
- Floating shoulder
- Cosmetic reasons
Depending on the severity of your collarbone fracture condition, your therapist could recommend either of the following surgical procedures:
- Open reduction and internal fixation
- Intramedullary (IM) fixation
The internal fixation procedure is often recommended to treat collarbone fractures. During this procedure, your surgeon will reposition broken pieces of your collarbone into the ideal position. Metal devices could also be necessary to keep pieces of your fractured collarbone in place (fixation). An orthopedic surgeon could perform this procedure using the following:
Plate and Screws
After repositioning the fractured ends of your collarbone into their normal alignment, your surgeon will use special metal plates and screws to hold them in place. After the surgery, you could notice a small area of numb skin below the incision site, which will become less noticeable with time.
Because there is less fat over your collarbone or clavicle, you can feel the plate through the skin with your fingers. Even when your bone heals, your surgeon will not remove this hardware from your body unless it makes you uncomfortable. Typically, problems with this hardware are uncommon, but sometimes backpacks and car seat belts can irritate your collarbone area.
When this happens, your surgeon can remove the hardware from your skin once the fractured collarbone heals completely, which can take about a year or more after the initial surgery.
Pins and Screws
Once your surgeon puts the ends of the fractured bone together, he/she can use pins and screws to hold them in place. Typically, the incisions your surgeon will make for pins placement are smaller than those he/she will make for plate placement underneath your skin.
Since they often irritate the incision site, your surgeon will remove them once your fracture heals completely.
Pain Management and Rehabilitation Tips After Collarbone Fracture Surgery
After surgery, it is not uncommon to feel pain at the incision site because it is a part of the healing process. Fortunately, you can manage or reduce this pain by using non-prescription painkillers and ice wrapped in a cloth to numb the painful area of the skin. If the pain is severe, your doctor could recommend taking prescription painkillers like opioids for a few days.
Once your collarbone heals, your surgeon will give you physical therapy plans or help you find a reliable physical therapist to guide you on appropriate exercises for your unique condition. Specific exercises can help restore movement and strength in your affected shoulder after collarbone fracture surgery.
Although the healing process could be slow, when you follow your therapist’s advice and instructions, the healing could be faster, allowing you to return to the regular activities you enjoy as soon as possible.
Potential Complications Associated with Collarbone Fracture Surgery
Like any other type of surgery, there are risks associated with collarbone fracture surgery. Some of these risks include:
- Damage to nerves and blood vessels — While it is rare, the jagged ends of your fractured collarbone could injure nearby blood vessels and nerves. If you experience numbness or cold in your hand or arm, you should seek immediate medical assistance
- Difficulty with bone and wound healing — A severely fractured bone could heal more slowly than a minor fracture. If the joining of the fractured bones is poor, your bone could also shorten
- A lump in the fractured bone — As part of the natural healing process, the part where the fractured bone knits together could develop a bony lump. While some lumps can disappear with time, others will not
- Osteoarthritis — If the fracture affects the joint that connects your breastbone or shoulder blade to the collarbone, there are chances that you could develop arthritis in that particular joint
Generally speaking, patients who are elderly, have diabetes, or use tobacco products are at higher risk of experiencing complications both before and after surgery. Specifically, these patients are more likely to experience difficulties with wound healing.
Before collarbone fracture surgery, your surgeon will discuss these possible complications with you and take proper measures to prevent them.
How to Find a Physical Therapist After Suffering a Collarbone Fracture
If you want the most outstanding treatment services for your collarbone fracture, you should dedicate ample time to finding a reliable physical therapist. Below are a few tips that can help you narrow down your options and find a competent physical therapist as soon as possible:
- Find a Qualified Physical Therapist
All physical therapists are prepared through education to treat collarbone fractures. However, it does not mean every therapist you meet is qualified to treat your specific injury. Hence, before you make significant commitments with your prospective therapist, you should check his/her qualifications.
If he/she does not have the necessary qualifications to prove his/her competence, you should consider finding a different qualified and certified expert.
- Find an Experienced Physical Therapist
Ensure the therapist you choose to work with to treat your collarbone fracture is well-experienced, specifically in pediatric conditions and orthopedic injuries. A therapist with experience treating patients with similar conditions or injuries will know the best approach for treating your unique condition.
- Find a Board-Certified Physical Therapist
Undoubtedly, it shows some sense of professionalism working with a board-certified physical therapist. If your prospective therapist does not have accreditations from related organizations or any professional body, you should consider finding a different expert for your collarbone fracture treatment.
- Find a Reputable Physical Therapist
Look for a physical therapist with a credible reputation from his/her past clients. If you have friends or colleagues who have previously worked with a physical therapist, they can recommend a reputable therapist for your unique condition.
- Find a Cost-Friendly Physical Therapist
Finally, the services fee of the physical therapist you decide to work with should suit your budget. During your first initial consultation with your prospective therapist, you should ask him/her about his/her cost of services and preferred means of payment. If his/her services fee is not within your budget, you should explore more options to find a therapist with cost-friendly services.
Find a Physical Therapist Near Me
A collarbone fracture is a common injury that can happen to anyone. Fortunately, it is a treatable condition that could require surgery or not, depending on its severity and the other factors mentioned above. At Suarez Physical Therapy, we have courteous therapists with significant experience treating patients with collarbone fractures, and we can help you as well.
Call us at 702-368-6778 to schedule your first initial consultation with your understanding and caring therapist, wherever you are in Las Vegas, Nevada.