How Common is a Broken Collarbone?

Q: My son recently broke his collarbone playing hockey. The doctor says this is a common injury, but can you tell me more about it?

A: A broken collarbone – also known as the clavicle – is one of the most commonly broken bones. Male teens break it most often – usually while playing a contact sport such as football or hockey.

The clavicle is one of the shoulder joint’s main bones and holds the shoulder up, providing stability and strength to the joint. People can usually tell right away when they break their collarbone because of the intense pain in the area after its hit, their inability to raise the arm because of the pain, and sometimes visible swelling or bruising.

While a common injury, it’s usually not serious. People may wear a sling for comfort and limit their lifting. Children may wear a sling for three to four weeks while an adult may only need to wear a sling for a few days. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are good for helping with the pain caused by the injury.

Your doctor can let you know when your son can resume normal activities. If he starts too soon, the bones may not heal properly. While he can’t hit the ice any time soon, there are simple exercises he can do to strengthen the shoulder as long as they don’t cause too much pain. Some moves to try include:

  • Shoulder squeezes: Sit or stand up straight and pull your shoulders back so your shoulder blades squeeze together. Hold for a few seconds and then relax. Try to do 10.
  • Passive motion: With arm resting on a table, palm up, bring your head down toward the arm and simultaneously move your trunk away from the table. Hold for a few seconds and repeat.
  • Arm circles: Bend over with the uninjured arm resting on a stable chair for support and have your injured arm point toward the floor. Then circle your arm in a clockwise motion several times before switching directions and circling it counter-clockwise. Make the circles only as big as you can without causing pain. The range of motion will increase as the shoulder heals.
  • Arm swings: Stay in the same position as you did for the arm circles, but this time swing your arm forward and backward a few times before trying side to side. Only go as far as you can without causing too much pain. As the bone heals, the range of motion will increase as will the number of swings you’ll be able to do.

Some broken collarbones are more severe and may need further medical intervention. Follow up with a physician trained to manage broken collar bones. Hopefully a broken collarbone won’t keep your son out of action for too long.

By Erica Kroncke, MD, sports medicine physician, ThedaCare Orthopedics Plus in Appleton.