The collarbone (clavicle) is one of the main bones of the shoulder joint. It holds the shoulder up and, along with the shoulder blade (scapula) and acromioclavicular joint, provides stability and strength to the shoulder. The collarbone is located between the ribcage (sternum) and the shoulder blade (scapula), and it connects the arm to the body. The collarbone also protects nerves and blood vessels from the neck to the shoulder.
A broken collarbone is also known as a clavicle fracture. This is a very common fracture that occurs in people of all ages.
Clavicle fractures are typically caused by a direct blow to the shoulder. This can happen during a fall onto the shoulder or a car collision. A fall onto an outstretched arm can also cause a clavicle fracture. Collarbone fractures are common in contact sports (like football, lacrosse and hockey) and in sports where there is a chance of a hard fall (such as biking, skiing, snowboarding and skateboarding). In babies, these fractures can occur during the passage through the birth canal.
If the collarbone is broken, the most obvious symptoms will be pain in the affected area and difficulty moving the affected arm. Additional symptoms include:
- Swelling, tenderness and bruising along the collarbone
- Sagging or slumping shoulder (down and forward)
- A grinding or crackling sensation if an attempt is made to raise the arm
- Inability to lift the arm because of pain
- Increased pain when the shoulder or arm is moved
- A bulge or deformity above the break (in rare cases, the broken end of the bone may even penetrate the skin and be exposed)