Understanding Shoulder Fractures: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Understanding Shoulder Fractures: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

A shoulder fracture is the breaking of a bone. These breaks usually manifest after a severe fall or accident. Shoulder fractures often do not need surgical intervention for treatment.

The shoulder is a flexible joint that connects the arm to the body. Among its many components are the bones that provide all of their mobility and functionality. Someone could fracture a shoulder bone after a high-impact injury, such as a tumble.

A shoulder fracture is a common kind of shoulder injury that may lead to a lot of discomfort, edema, and bruising. Putting the arm in a sling and letting it rest is a common part of shoulder injury therapy. A person may need surgery for more serious instances.

What is a shoulder fracture?

A complicated joint, the shoulder, secures the arm to the body and provides motion to that part of the body. Three bones make up the shoulder:

A shoulder fracture is characterized by a split in any of the three bones that make up the shoulder joint, as opposed to a more generalized crack or break in any bone.

There are four joints in the shoulder that allow it a lot of mobility (Trusted Source). Shoulder fractures, whether they affect one or more bones, may limit motion and produce severe pain.

Different types of shoulder fractures

There are three different types of shoulder fractures, according to the ASSH.

  1. Clavicle fracture

The term for a broken collarbone is a clavicle fracture. An individual’s clavicle is the bone that joins their breastbone to their shoulder blade. People of all ages may sustain a clavicle fracture. The midline of the bone is the most common site for fractures.

  1. Scapula fracture

The shoulder blade, commonly referred to as the scapula, is a triangle-shaped bone in the shoulder. Due to the scapula’s protection by the chest and surrounding muscles, this kind of shoulder fracture is rare.

  1. Proximal humerus fracture

The humerus is a bone located in the upper arm. The “proximal” portion of this bone is the one that forms a ball and attaches to the shoulder blade socket. Therefore, if the upper portion of the humerus bone breaks, it is called a proximal humerus fracture.

Reasons why a shoulder could fracture

Shoulder fractures usually happen as a result of intense blunt force trauma or any incident that applies excessive pressure to this region.

A fall onto an extended hand may cause fractures to the clavicle and the proximal humerus.

  • Children less than seven years old are at increased risk for clavicle fractures, making them one of the most prevalent types of pediatric fractures.
  • People over the age of 65, especially those with a history of bone disorders such as osteoporosis, are at increased risk for proximal humerus fractures.
  • The scapula is protected from the chest and the muscles around it, making it difficult to fracture. Therefore, scapula fractures often happen after high-energy trauma, such as a car crash or a fall from a great height.

Shoulder fracture symptoms

Pain, bruising, and swelling in and around the shoulder are common symptoms of trauma and similar situations. Additional, more specific symptoms could include, depending on the fracture type:

Clavicle fracture

  • Clavicle fracture restricted shoulder mobility, edema, and bruising around the collarbone’s midsection; 
  • A bump beneath the skin represents the fracture’s terminator; 
  • Reduced mobility in the affected arm.

Scapula fracture

  • Shoulder blade bruises 
  • Swelling
  • Pain from a scapula fracture

A fracture of the proximal humerus

  • Severely restricted mobility
  • Significant edema
  • Excruciating pain
  • Bruises all over the upper arm

Shoulder fracture diagnosis

After reviewing a patient’s medical history, doing a physical examination, and analyzing X-rays, doctors can usually verify a shoulder fracture.

In most cases, X-rays can confirm a shoulder fracture. 

To further evaluate possible injury to other structures in the shoulder, a doctor may recommend further imaging tests like a CT or MRI scan.

A doctor may determine the exact position of the fracture and assess its severity with the use of imaging tests.

Shoulder fracture treatment

Shoulder fractures generally do not need surgical intervention for treatment. Placing the shoulder in a sling and using pain medication may usually cure the problem. 

On the other hand, surgery may be necessary in cases of serious fractures. The following procedures may be necessary to treat a fracture:

Clavicle fracture

Surgical intervention may be necessary if the fracture penetrates the skin or if the bone is significantly misaligned. Plates, screws, or rods inserted into the bone to stabilize a clavicle fracture are common surgical procedures.

Scapula fracture

Scapula fractures that need surgery are very rare. Shoulder joint involvement from fracture fragments or another serious clavicle fracture may need this. Bone alignment and fracture repair with plates and screws are common surgical procedures.

Proximal humerus fracture

Surgery could be required if the bone pieces are very misplaced. Plates, screws, pins, or shoulder joint replacement may be necessary to secure the fracture pieces. The treatment involves surgically inserting prosthetic components into the injured shoulder.

Shoulder fracture recovery

How long it takes to get back on your toes after a shoulder fracture depends on the specific kind of break.

  • Six to eight weeks is the normal recovery time for a fractured collarbone. In around three to four weeks, children may feel better. Wearing a sling for 
  • Two to three weeks and then resting the shoulder for the rest of the rehab period is the standard procedure.
  • The healing process for a scapula fracture, which involves the separation of the shoulder blade, usually takes about six to twelve weeks. Wearing a sling for three weeks is the standard procedure. When removing the sling and beginning rehabilitation activities is safe, a doctor will tell the patient.
  • It usually takes 6–12 weeks for a proximal humerus fracture to heal. Wearing a sling for as long as six weeks is common for this kind of injury. It is possible to resume mild arm and shoulder movements after removing the sling.

When you have a shoulder fracture, your doctor may probably suggest certain activities to help you heal faster. 

Depending on the kind of fracture, these exercises will be slightly different, but they all have the same goal: to help you get your shoulder moving and strong again. 

The healing procedure for the injury is usually just a few weeks, but the rehabilitation process might go on for months.

Wrapping It Up

Breakage of the three bones that make up the shoulder is known as a fracture. The three bones in question are the proximal humerus, clavicle, and scapula. When you experience significant impact trauma, such a fall or car accident, it might lead to a shoulder fracture.

Shoulder stiffness, discomfort, edema, and bruising are common symptoms. Many times, all it takes to diagnose a shoulder fracture is an X-ray. A sling may be necessary when treating a patient. Surgery may be required in more serious situations. 

Within a 12-week period, the majority of injuries should have healed. But getting back on your feet can take a while. 

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