Collar Bone Pain

Collar Bone Pain

Collar bone pain can be due to one of a couple of conditions. The clavicle bone may be fractured. The other major cause of chronic pain is arthritis in one of the shoulder joints.

The shoulder has three bones and three joints. The clavicle is one of the bones, and its common name is the collar bone.
At the end of the clavicle is the acromioclavicular joint where the collar bone meets the shoulder bone.

Remember the shoulder structure is held together by ligaments, tendons and muscles.

It's really somewhat surprising that there aren't more people with collar bone pain and shoulder pain, when you look at a diagram of the shoulder. The shoulder is made up of the clavicle, scapula, humerus, bursa (fluid filled sac) and the tissues just mentioned.

Arthritis or a Broken Bone?

When arthritis strikes, the joint connected to the collar bone can become painful, so the term collar bone pain. Either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation in the acromioclavicular joint. Arthritis can cause both pain and limited motion of the entire shoulder and arm.

On the other hand, collar bone pain can also be caused by a bone fracture. Most people have heard of others breaking their collar bone. It's a frequent injury among athletes who endure physical impacts. Breaking a collar bone isn't easy because it's a thick bone.

How does a collarbone fracture occur?
Clavicle fractures are common injuries, and they can occur different ways. Some people fall on an outstretched hand, others fall and hit the outside of their shoulder. Broken collarbones can also occur from a direct hit to the clavicle. In babies, clavicle fractures occur at birth.

What are the symptoms of a broken collarbone?
Most often, patients have shoulder pain, and difficulty moving their arm. Swelling and bruising around the broken bone are also quite common. After the swelling has subsided, the fracture is often easily felt through the skin.

At the doctor's office or in the emergency room, an x-ray will show the fracture. Your doctor will also perform an examination to ensure the nerves and blood vessels surrounding the clavicle are in tact. The nerves and vessels are rarely injured because of a broken collarbone.

When the collar bone or connecting joint is damaged, you'll have difficult lifting your arm over your head. You might find it painful to lift objects as well. Pain makes it difficult to sleep at night and especially if you like to sleep on your side.

The doctor will determine if the muscles are weak or if there's tenderness, limited range of motion, or injured tissue. If arthritis is present the x-ray will show a narrowing of the joint from worn cartilage.

A Variety of Treatments

There are a variety of treatments used to reduce collar bone pain. A fractured collar bone can't be fixed with a cast like a leg bone. Sometimes surgery is needed when it's a compound fracture or a bone break puncturing the skin.

Treatment of clavicle fractures most commonly involves resting the affected extremity. There are several types of slings available; one commonly used is called a"figure-of-8" splint. This is a brace that wraps around the shoulders to keep them back--like a soldier standing at attention.

Clavicle fractures should heal completely within 12 weeks, but the pain usually subsides within a few weeks. Often patients are back to full activities before 12 weeks has passed, especially with younger patients.

As a general guide to return to activities, nothing should cause worsening pain. If not wearing a sling causes pain, wear a sling. If driving hurts the fracture site, don't drive. If throwing a ball hurts, don't throw. Once an activity doesn't cause significant pain, a gradual return can be attempted.

Recovery is usually complete, with a full return expected. You may notice a persistent bump where the fracture was (often for months or longer), but this should not be bothersome.

It is unusual for a clavicle fracture to require surgery, and most often an attempt at treatment in a sling is made. Surgery is required in some situations when either the skin is broken or if the fracture is severely displaced or shortened.

But usually you can use the same treatments to reduce pain experienced due to a fractured bone or arthritis.

  • Shoulder rest and limited arm movement until the pain subsides
  • Moist heat applied to the painful area
  • Physical therapy when arthritis or a fracture has limited the range of motion
  • Medications such as Anti-inflammatory agents
  • Ice packs to reduce swelling
  • Glucosamine and chondroitin to promote bone growth

Collar bone pain is fortunately not something most people have to deal with on a regular basis. Yet I imagine when one does, it would be a painful experience to deal with.

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