Key Points about Shoulder, Upper Arm, or Collarbone Fractures

  • Shoulder fractures commonly occur as a result of a fall, collision, or other accident involving force such as an auto accident or contact sports injury.
  • Shoulder fractures are characterized by pain, bruising, swelling, deformity, and loss of range of motion.
  • Shoulder blade (scapula) fractures are not common due to the joint’s mobility and muscle layer protection.
  • Up to 80% of shoulder blade fractures include injuries to the chest wall, lungs, and other parts of the shoulder.
  • Upper arm and collar bone fractures are more common than shoulder blade fractures.
  • Fractures of the shoulder may include damage to surrounding tendons, ligaments, and muscles.
Common related conditions
Shoulder Dislocation

Overview

Fractures to the shoulder, upper arm, and collarbone are a common form of trauma to the shoulder area. 

Shoulder fractures encompass breaks to any of the three bones of the shoulder:

  • Scapula,
  • Clavicle
  • Proximal humorous

The shoulder is comprised of the clavicle (collar bone), scapula (shoulder blade), and the proximal humerus (upper arm bone) and is susceptible to fracture from falling and forceful events. 

Shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture causes

A traumatic incident often causes a shoulder fracture.

Common causes include:

  • Contact sports-related trauma
  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Blunt force trauma
  • Falling onto an outstretched arm
  • Falling from heights
  • Child abuse

Shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of a shoulder fracture if you:

  • Play contact sports
  • Engage in high-risk activities involving heights or speed
  • Have a low bone density
  • Have osteoporosis, which makes the elderly more susceptible to fractures from falls

Shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture symptoms

Common symptoms of a shoulder fracture include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Deformed appearance
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Holding the injured arm close to the body
  • Increased pain with arm movement
  • Pain occurring upon each deep breath due to chest wall movement

Shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture complications

If a shoulder fracture is treated early, you should experience a full recovery with few if any complications.

When complications occur, they may include:

  • Poor shoulder function
  • The development of post-trauma arthritis in the shoulder area
  • Continued pain and stiffness, including "frozen shoulder"
  • In cases of surgical treatment, repeated surgery may be necessary due to improper healing
  • Inability to continue training or keep up an exercise routine
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Nerve or blood vessel injury

If you experience pain or numbness at the impacted area within 24 hours after the incident, visit the ER right away. You could be experiencing compartment syndrome as a result of reduced or cut off blood flow to the affected area.

Shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture diagnosis

Your Bon Secours medical professional can diagnose a fractured shoulder by conducting a physical examination in combination with X-rays, CT scans, and MRI's as appropriate.

During a physical exam, your doctor will evaluate your shoulder for swelling, deformity, tenderness, or an open wound. An X-ray can determine the exact location and the severity of the fracture.

Shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture treatment

Treatment for a shoulder fracture will depend upon the type of break you experienced. Types of fractures include:

  • Compound fracture — If the bone breaks through the skin, this is considered a compound fracture. You need immediate attention if you have a compound fracture.
  • Closed fracture — A closed fracture is a shoulder fracture where the bones do not break through the skin.
  • Displaced fracture — If the bones on either side of the break are not aligned, this is considered a displaced fracture.
  • Comminuted fracture — If the shoulder bones are broken into pieces, you may have a comminuted fracture. Surgery is often required in a comminuted fracture.
  • Torus fracture — If one side of the bone is compressed, causing the other side to buckle, this is considered a torus fracture.
  • Greenstick fracture — If your shoulder bone cracks but does not break, this is considered a greenstick fracture.

Your doctor may need to move the bones back into position if you have a displaced fracture.

Conservative treatment for a shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture

Conservative medical treatment for shoulder fractures involves immobilizing the affected joint via slings, splints, tape, and medications until sufficient healing has occurred.

Surgical treatment for a shoulder, upper arm, or collarbone fracture

In some cases, surgical treatment is necessary to stabilize the bones. If surgery is required, your doctor can treat the fracture with pins, screws, and wires to piece bone fragments together and enable the healing process to begin.

Physical therapy is typically recommended immediately after healing to promote joint movement, restore muscle strength, and improve flexibility.

When to seek care

Seek care if you experience swelling, bruising, severe pain, or deformity in combination with loss of mobility or other symptoms that don't go away in 3-5 days. If you delay treatment, your healing can be delayed, and complications can arise.

Next Steps

Your doctor will assess your symptoms and provide treatment accordingly. It is important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan to ensure proper healing.

If your pain or symptoms worsen, call your doctor right away.