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Collarbone Pain: Causes and Treatments

The collarbone is a bone that’s located in the upper part of the chest. It’s also called the clavicle and sits horizontally between the sternum and shoulder blade.

Each person has two collarbones- one for the right and left side of the body. Fun fact: it’s the only long bone in the human body that lies in a horizontal position.

Below, we’ll talk about what might be causing your collarbone pain.

Collarbone Anatomy

broken clavicleThe collarbone attaches to two bones: the scapula and sternum. Both attachments are immobile in nature. They are designed to provide support.

The bone itself is a doubly curved, relatively large bone that has a rounded end and flattened end. Unfortunately, due to its location on the body, it’s susceptible to injury and trauma.

It’s very common for people to fracture their clavicle, which would obviously lead to a great deal of collarbone pain.

Bottom Line: The collarbone attaches to the sternum and scapula. It has a rounded end and a flattened end.

What Causes Collarbone Pain?

collarbone painIn most cases, collarbone pain is due to a fracture or an injury to a supporting structure. For example, there’s something called the acromioclavicular ligament that supports it.

If that ligament tears, then it can cause extreme pain. Pain from injury or trauma will usually be constant, although it may get worse with movement.

People with clavicle pain may experience a dull, chronic pain that lasts 24/7. If that’s the case, it can ruin your quality of life. The pain may prevent you from putting any weight on it at all.

Bottom Line: A tear to a supporting structure like the acromioclavicular ligament can cause this symptom.

Fractures

If you’ve got a fracture, then it will likely be visible to the naked eye. Part of the bone may poke into the skin, which you can easily feel and see.

In many cases, broken or fractured clavicles heal on their own. You’ll need to wear a sling that prevents your arm from moving while the bone heals.

Throughout this time, you may want to take OTC pain medication to lessen the chronic collarbone pain.

Bottom Line: A broken/fractured clavicle will usually heal on its own if you’re wearing a sling to keep your arm up.

Acromioclavicular Ligament Tears

A more serious potential cause is an acromioclavicular ligament tear. As the name implies, this happens whenever you tear the acromioclavicular ligament.

Remember that ligaments don’t have a blood supply. Thus, they can take quite a long time to heal (if ever).

This type of injury can prevent you from lifting anything remotely heavy. In some cases, surgery will be required.

Bottom Line: A possible cause for your collarbone pain is an acromioclavicular ligament tear.

Treating Collarbone Pain

If you fractured your collarbone, then a clavicle brace will be required until it’s healed. This will keep everything in place throughout the course of the healing process.

The average fracture will heal in 4-6 weeks (sometimes longer, and sometimes shorter).

After the first 2 weeks or so, your doctor may give you a repeat X-ray to ensure that everything is healing properly.

Bottom Line: If you’ve fractured your clavicle, then a clavicle brace should be worn until it’s fully healed.

Compound Collarbone Fractures

A compound collarbone fracture is typically more serious than a regular fracture. This is when you have an open wound and a fractured collarbone.

It will require hands-on care from an orthopedic surgeon. If not treated properly, the open wound can lead to an infection.

Treating the fracture will be delayed until the wound is healed and there’s no possibility of an infection.

Bottom Line: For collarbone pain caused by a compound fracture, doctors will treat potential infections before fixing the fracture.

Treating an Acromioclavicular Ligament Injury

Arguably the most difficult type of injury to treat is one to the acromioclavicular ligament. Surgical ligament repair is often needed.

Before the surgery, your doctor will likely give you an MRI to understand the injury in greater detail.

As we mentioned earlier, these ligaments don’t have their own blood supply. Therefore, the healing process is typically very slow (if it ever heals).

Bottom Line: The most difficult type of collarbone pain to treat is one due to an acromioclavicular ligament injury.

Distal Clavicular Osteolysis

This type of fracture is commonly referred to as “weightlifter’s shoulder”.  The reason is because it often occurs when lifting heavy things (bench presses, etc.).

Lifting heavy things puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the shoulder joint, which can lead to this type of injury.

Pain is the main symptom, and it can become worse when you lie on your side. Rest is the primary form of treatment, but if that doesn’t help, surgery may be required.

Bottom Line: If you lift heavy things daily, then you may get weightlifter’s shoulder, which is quite painful.

Potential Complications?

Rarely will an injury to the collarbone lead to complications. It may heal on its own, or you may need medical intervention.

A non-healing ulcer may develop over the bone if the sharp edges of the fractured bone begin touching the underlying skin. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you’re concerned.

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