What is a Shoulder Fracture?

The shoulder is a large joint where three bones come together: the scapula (shoulder blade), the clavicle (collarbone), and the humerus (arm bone). They are held together by a complex network of soft tissue, which includes ligaments, tendons, and muscles. A shoulder fracture is a break in one of the three bones. It is most often caused by some sort of trauma, such as a fall, car accident, or sports injury. However, the arm bone or the collarbone are more likely to break than the scapula.

A shoulder fracture is different from a shoulder dislocation. A dislocation happens when one of the bones is pushed or pulled out of position. This usually happens to the arm bone.

Symptoms

Symptoms of a shoulder fracture will depend on which bone is broken but usually include one or more of these:

Redness and/or bruising

Swelling

Crooked or deformed bone

Inability to move it

Cuts or scrapes on the skin

Moderate to severe pain that gets worse with movement

When to See a Doctor

Seek urgent care if you experience severe pain in your shoulder, especially after a fall or other injury.

Causes

Most shoulder fractures are caused by:

  • Falls, especially in children or the elderly or during high-speed sports, such as skiing
  • A blow or impact on the field of play or during an automobile accident
  • Tumors or growths which may weaken the bone

Diagnosis and Tests

In most cases, a shoulder fracture can be found with an x-ray. An x-ray is a picture (radiograph) taken with low-level radiation. This highlights the dense tissues in your body and can show the location of a fracture. In some cases, additional imaging may be needed to check for damage to the soft tissues or blood vessels in the affected area.

Treatments & Prevention

Treatments

Your treatment plan will depend on the severity of your injury and your overall health. In general, you can expect the following:

  • The doctor will position the ends of the bones so that they heal in a natural position.
  • Your arm and shoulder will likely be placed in a sling and “figure 8” wrap to keep it from moving.
  • You may be prescribed physical therapy to strengthen the joint and restore your range of motion after the bones have healed.