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How Do I Treat a Broken Collarbone?

A human skeleton, including the collarbones in red.
A radiograph can show physicians whether a collarbone is broken.
Using a cold compress in conjunction with taking pain medication will relieve discomfort from a broken collarbone.
Article Details
  • Written By: M.R. Anglin
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 31 August 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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The collarbone, also called the clavicle, is one of the most commonly broken bones in the body. Athletes, children, and even babies coming out of the birth canal can experience a break in this bone. Treating a broken collarbone does not usually require surgery, but there are some steps a patient can take to properly treat it. In order to treat a broken collarbone, a person should see the doctor to make sure there is a break. Immobilizing the arm, using a cold compress, and taking pain medications are common parts of treatment, and performing a range of motion exercises once the pain subsides may also be necessary.

If a person feels he has a broken collarbone, he should try to keep the arm still until he can get to a doctor. Sometimes, a broken bone results in an open fracture — that is, when the bone breaks through the skin. If there is a wound over the break, it may mean that the bone broke the skin but went back in when the person moved. In this case, a person should seek medical attention, as surgery may be necessary to clean out the wound and help prevent infection.

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The length of time it takes for a broken collarbone to heal depends on how old the patient is. Children often heal after three or four weeks. Teenagers may heal after six to eight weeks, but an adult may have to wait up to four months. A sling or figure-of-eight bandage may have to be worn for the entire time. Many doctors prefer the sling over the bandage because it is not possible for a person to properly wash while wearing a figure-of-eight bandage, and the bandage can be more uncomfortable and can cause more skin irritation than the sling.

Different forms of pain medication may be prescribed or recommended for a patient with a broken collarbone. Putting on a cold compress for about 20 minutes once every two hours may also be recommended to help with the pain and to reduce swelling. Once the pain has subsided, it may be best for the patient to start moving his arms, wrist, and shoulders in order to prevent them from getting stiff. Doctors or physical therapists can teach patients exercises that can be done to keep the arm mobile. Sports and other strength exercises should not be attempted until the broken collarbone is completely healed.

There are times when surgery is the best option for treating a broken collarbone. This usually happens with an open fracture or if the bones aren’t healing. During surgery, a doctor may have to implant plates or screws. Surgery may also be necessary to clean the wound and prevent infection. Surgeries for broken collarbones are uncommon, however, and the bone usually heals without any intervention.

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