Shoulder Fractures | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Shoulder Fractures

Overview and Facts about Shoulder Fractures

Shoulder fracture is trauma to the shoulder that involves broken bones. In the shoulder, the most common fractures are in three areas:

  • Clavicle, or collar bone
  • Proximal humerus, or the top of the upper arm bone
  • Scapula, or shoulder blade

If you experience a shoulder fracture, it may be located in one or more of these areas. The most common cause is a direct blow or fall to the shoulder.

Shoulder fractures often do not require surgical intervention, depending on whether the broken bone fragments are displaced (move from their original position in the shoulder joint) or non-displaced (remain close to their original positions). Most shoulder fractures are non-displaced or minimally displaced.

Symptoms of Shoulder Fractures

Symptoms of shoulder fracture vary depending on which part of the shoulder (clavicle, scapula or proximal humerus) has been injured. In general, signs include:

  • Swelling and bruising around the injured area
  • Noticeable visible deformity
  • Shoulder pain
  • Tenderness
  • Inability to move the shoulder without pain 

Causes and Risk Factors of Shoulder Fractures

The most common cause of a shoulder fracture is a direct blow or fall on the shoulder. This type of injury typically occurs after a collision or automobile accident. Other causes may include a fall from a height (i.e., horseback riding or rock climbing) or participation in contact sports, such as football or hockey. 

Tests and Diagnosis of Shoulder Fractures

Your doctor will begin diagnosis for a shoulder fracture by discussing your medical history and physical symptoms. He/she will examine your shoulder for signs of swelling, tenderness, pain and any limits to your range of motion. Imaging tests, such as an X-ray or CT scan, are usually ordered to determine what part of the shoulder is injured. 

Treatment and Care for Shoulder Fractures

Shoulder fractures are classified as either displaced (broken bone fragments have moved from their original position in the shoulder joint) or non-displaced (fragments remain close to their original positions). Most shoulder fractures are non-displaced or minimally displaced and can be treated with immobilization in a sling for a short period of time until the fracture heals.

When the broken bone fragments have been displaced, surgery may be necessary. The extent of the surgery depends on the extent of the fracture. Minor fractures can be fixed by placing wires, pins, plates or screws in the affected area to bring the pieces back together. In rare cases, shoulder replacement may be recommended for more serious fractures.

After treatment, physical therapy is very important to improve the shoulder’s range of motion and strength. Your doctor will develop a rehabilitation plan once he/she determines your shoulder has healed sufficiently to begin a physical therapy exercise program.