Understanding Collar Bone Fractures

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by Edmund S. Evangelista, MD

Fractures of the collar bone, or clavicle, are among the most common fractures encountered in contact or collision sports. Football is no exception. These injuries typically occur following a direct blow to the clavicle during contact or following a fall onto the top of the shoulder.

Following the injury, the athlete will complain of pain at the fracture site and might be unable to move the arm because of pain. Coaches and trainers should look for swelling and an obvious deformity at the fracture site.

Tenting of the skin below the fracture might occur if the displacement is significant (that is, if one end of the fractured bone moves away from the other end).

If a clavicle fracture is suspected on the field, keep the arm of the injured side against the body and immobilized until the athlete is evaluated by a physician. X-rays will confirm the diagnosis of a clavicle fracture.

The majority of clavicle fractures are treated conservatively. Treatment includes immobilization with a figure-eight brace or a simple sling. Athletes should use ice and over-the-counter pain medications as needed for comfort.

After 3-4 weeks, once healing is noted on a follow-up X-ray, the athlete may begin gentle range-of-motion exercises and eventually progress to light strengthening as pain allows. Most clavicle fractures heal uneventfully with conservative treatment. Even fractures with significant displacement heal surprisingly well. Most leave behind a visible deformity or bump at the healed fracture site.

Athletes must avoid contact sports until after 12 weeks. They should use “doughnut” padding over the healed fracture site for comfort and protection when returning to contact sports.

This article was excerpted from the Shoulder Injuries section of the Sports Injuries Guidebook from Human Kinetics. For more information about this book or to purchase it, please visit www.HumanKinetics.com.

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