Does a Broken Clavicle Require Surgery?
Clavicle fractures are often significantly displaced, especially in athletic people who sustain a hard fall or impact to the shoulder. If the clavicle is fractured into numerous pieces that are significantly separated from one another, surgery is usually indicated. Without surgery, the bone fragments stand a higher likelihood of (1) not healing with bone and instead scar tissue joins the bone fragments together (nonunion) and this can cause continued pain, or (2) the bone fragments will heal in poor alignment, such as the the clavicle healing overlapped and shortened (malunion) which could compromise future shoulder biomechanics.
Clavicle fracture surgery consists of exposing the fractured clavicle through an longitudinal incision made over the top of the bone, properly aligning all of the fractured fragments, and then applying a metal plate that is pre-contoured to fit the natural curve of the clavicle, and securing the plate to the aligned bone with small screws that pass through both the plate and bone. Once the bone is aligned and stabilized by the hardware, patient’s often have much less pain, as the bone ends are not moving and scraping against each other as the arm moves. Moreover, the bone will heal in its normal anatomic shape, which allows for a return of normal shoulder mechanics and function. Finally, once the bone is stabilized, the recovery is faster and patients can return to activities sooner. Dr. Cunningham is a shoulder specialist at Vail Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery. He is an expert at diagnosing and treating clavicle fractures for patients in Vail, Summit County, Aspen, and Denver, CO.