Collarbone Pain – Symptoms, Causes, Treatment

Collarbone is the point at which the chest and the upper limb join together. Anything carried by the hands shifts the weight to the collarbone and central part of the body. Collarbone pain indicates ligament injury or tissue damage in the place. Any kind of trauma to the collarbone would weaken the hand making it difficult to carry or lift anything. Any inflammation, infection or injury to the collarbone can cause pain. Sometimes pain originating from other places can be felt in the collarbone. For instance, heart attack can cause pain in the left arm and similarly any pain in the collarbone can also be due to heart conditions. Pain in the right shoulder can be due to gallstones in the gallbladder.

Collarbone Location :

Collarbone is fused with the sternum or breastbone and the scapula or the shoulder blade. Strong ligaments and tissues cover these joints adding more strength. You can identify the collarbone easily in the upper chest area since it lies close to the skin. The main task of the collarbone is to keep the shoulder blade intact making free movements of the arm.

Collarbone Pain

Symptoms Of Injured/Broken Collarbone :

Fracture of collarbone can cause intense pain on the upper chest region and shoulder. The person may not be able to move the arms and if he tries to move it, it can cause popping sound or cracking sound. In addition to these signs, the injured area can become tender (warm to touch), develop swelling. Collarbone fracture may occur to newborn babies while he/she pushes through the vagina. Broken clavicle would often fuse automatically as the baby grows. Displacement of clavicle or clavicle dislocation can cause immediate swelling and unbearable pain. The pain gets worse when the person involves in action like pulling or pushing. In the case of osteoarthritis the pain would be mild but throbbing. Any infection on the clavicle like osteomyelitis can cause considerable pain on the shoulder and fever with tenderness over the injured area.

Collarbone Pain Causes :

Many factors can cause pain in the collarbone. Even a small ligament tear can cause dull aching pain while moving the arm. There are situations that cause pain even without any movement of the arm. The entire weight of the arm is literally placed on the collarbone and hence any injury on the collarbone can affect the rotation and movement of the arm.

  • Trauma- Sudden blow or fall can injure the collarbone causing a fracture. Even without fracture significant pain is felt on the collarbone. This often occurs during road accident or fall. Often this kind of bone injury is short-lived and the pain resolves within few days or a month. Sometimes the soft tissue covering the bone gets injured causing clavicle pain for months together.
  • Broken Bone – Serious trauma can cause a fracture or broken bone. Motorbike accident, fall and assault can cause fracture. Fracture can either be simple (a small part of the bone is broken) or compound (multiple fractures that affects the surrounding organs). Severe fracture can cause the collarbone to protrude through the skin. In many cases fracture of the collarbone can moderately or severely affect the surrounding tissue and ligaments causing pain. Fracture of the collarbone gets intensified during wrong methods of transporting the patient to the hospital. Hence it is necessary to give proper support by collarbone brace shortly after a fracture since wrong movements of the injured bone would worsen the fracture.
  • Injured Muscle – Injured muscles of the collarbone can cause considerable pain. Even when the bone is not injured, certain muscles of the neck and shoulder which are fused with the clavicle develop inflammation due to trauma can cause pain. Muscles can get stretched when the person carries heavy weight. Similarly tendons can develop swelling or get torn due to injury leading to tendonitis.
  • Injured Joints – Several joints are present in the collarbone including shoulder blade and sternum. Any problem in these joints may lead to pain in the collarbone. Arthritis (inflammation of these joints) or any infection can injure the joints. For some people the bones underlying the joints gets injured due to wear and tear of cartilage. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are some common kinds of problem in the joints.
  • Ligaments – Ligaments are nothing but connective tissue of the short bands which are responsible for providing support to the concerned bones. Sometimes these bands get injured due to strain causing a sprain. Ligament tears can occur in the collarbone due to sudden trauma or blow on the shoulder region and gets torn. This might take several months to heal completely and cause moderate pain until such time.
  • Other Causes – Bone tumor, cancer, joint dislocation and any infection of the clavicle can cause collarbone pain.

Collarbone Pain

Diagnosis :

X-ray of the injured collarbone can help in diagnosing the fracture. In case of ligament tear or joint injury, imaging tests like MRI is done to detect the intensity of injury.

Collarbone Pain Treatment :

Minor injury of the collarbone is treated with clavicle brace or supportive bandage. The entire length of the clavicle is covered with bandage to restrict any movement. Healing takes place slowly in a month or two closing the edges of the broken bone. After complete healing of the collarbone, your doctor may suggest physiotherapy for strengthening the muscles. In case of moderately injured bone with compound fracture, your doctor would take enough care to prevent any infection. Antibiotics would be prescribed for this reason and the patient should complete the course of antibiotics as instructed by the doctor.

For osteoarthritis, anti-inflammatory medications and cortisone injections can be taken. Only in severe cases surgical intervention is required. Sling is kept intact on the collarbone for mild sprain and ligament tears. Surgery is to be done for multiple fractures and sometimes for ligament repair. Acromio clavicular ligament injury is to be treated with surgery in most of the cases. But the surgery can be done after few weeks to identify the extent of injury and to facilitate self healing of ligaments. Conservative methods like application of ice, complete rest and applying compression bandage are useful in controlling inflammation of the injured area. Collarbone injuries are common in children and application of bandage or braces is enough for ossification of the bone.

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