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FAQ Shoulder Fractures: Clavicle, Proximal, Humerus, Scapular

Any high-energy impact to the shoulder can cause a fracture in the bone; these types of impacts include falling, colliding with a wall, body-on-body collisions in sports, or acute trauma from a motor vehicle accident to name a few.  Shoulder fractures commonly involve the clavicle (collar bone), the proximal humerus (top of the upper arm bone), or the scapula (shoulder blade). In this article, the shoulder experts at Beacon Orthopaedics will explore the different types of fractures, what to look for, and answer some of the most frequently asked questions we’ve heard from patients.

Dr. Robert Rolf of Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine has a passion for helping patients regain mobility, remove pain, and strengthen their joints to resume their favorite activities sooner. If you’ve recently discovered symptoms mirroring those illustrated in this article, schedule an appointment today to speak with Dr. Rolf about your options for treatment and recovery.

What are the different types of shoulder fractures?

Clavicle Fractures: Fractures along the long, thin bone that begins at the base of the neck and extends out to the shoulder—these can occur at any age as the result of a fall, a collision in contact sports, or a motor vehicle accident.

Proximal Humerus Fractures: Fractures along the top of the long bone that runs from the elbow to the shoulder—either at or just below the humeral head. These fractures can also occur at any age, but your risk increases with age and the onset of osteoporosis in the shoulder.

Scapula Fractures: Scapula fractures are rare, because a larger impact is required to fracture the scapula—the flat triangular bone located in your upper back. These shoulder fractures usually result from a bad collision in a contact sport or automobile accident. Patients who have sustained this type of fracture are more likely to also have sustained nerve injuries, rib fractures, or lung injuries.

What are the signs of a fractured shoulder?

General Findings, Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Fractures:

  • Sharp or aching pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Loss of range of motion in shoulder
  • A grinding sensation when the shoulder is moved
  • Discoloration on the skin and/or hematoma

Clavicle Fracture Findings:

  • Bruising and discoloration
  • Swelling around the middle or along the collarbone area
  • An area along the collarbone area that may reveal a bump (the prominent ends of the fracture under the skin)
  • Shoulder range of motion is limited, but not completely lost

Proximal Humerus Fracture Findings:

  • Severe swelling around the shoulder
  • Very limited movement of the shoulder
  • Severe pain during shoulder movement

Scapular Fracture Findings:

  • Pain during shoulder movement
  • Severe swelling and bruising around the back of the shoulder
  • Scrapes around the affected area

What do you do to treat a shoulder fracture?

Treatment Options

Non-displaced fractures require a sling to immobilize your shoulder until the fracture is stable enough to regain full mobility. If your arm is moved too much too early, this will not only delay the healing process, but it will result in residual stiffness in your arm, further loss of mobility, and running the risk of dislodging the fracture fragments further.

If your shoulder fracture has a large percentage of displaced bone fragments, surgical procedures may be necessary. Surgery could entail anything from reforming the bone using wires or pins or a plate that will reconnect the displaced bones to total shoulder joint replacement.

How to Know You Need Surgery

  • Have you sustained a compound fracture that has broken the bone so it pierces your skin?
  • Has your fracture severely displaced bone fragments within the affected area?
  • Has your fractured caused a misalignment in your shoulder socket?
  • Have you fractured more than one shoulder bone?

If you have answered yes to any of the above questions, schedule an appointment immediately to get a consultation.

How long does it take for a shoulder fracture or break take to heal?

If the shoulder injury was not severe, there is fairly rapid improvement and return of function after the first 4 to 6 weeks.

After a more severe fracture, your quality of life can be greatly affected for months, depending on your participation in the recovery plan set for you by your physician. Most shoulder injuries whether treated surgically or non-surgically will require a period of immobilization followed by rehabilitation of the joint. If you don’t comply to the guidelines, you risk bone fragment displacement and an elongated recovery timeline (or risk the need for surgery).

Your Rehabilitation Plan Could Include:

  • Range of Motion Exercises
  • Strength Exercises
  • Manual Therapy
  • Modalities
  • Functional Training

Schedule a Consultation with a Shoulder Specialist

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms discussed in this article, schedule an appointment today and Dr. Rolf of Beacon Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine will work with you to create a detailed treatment plan to get you back to the activities you love most.