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 of a shoulder fracture will depend on which bone is broken but usually include one or more of these:
- Moderate to severe pain that gets worse with movement
- Redness and/or bruising
- Crooked or deformed bone
- Inability to move it
- Cuts or scrapes on the skin
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
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.
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.
Because a shoulder fracture is almost always an accidental injury, you may not be able to prevent it.