Pain Management For Clavicle Fractures

The clavicle or collarbone is located between the sternum and scapula. This bone connects the arm to the body and helps provide shoulder support. Clavicle fractures account for about 5% of all adult bone breaks and about half of all shoulder fractures. Most cases come from accidents like falls on an outstretched arm or a blow to the shoulder. Clavicle fractures are especially painful. While most cases do not require surgery, patients do require different means of pain management.

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Don’t ignore the signs

There is a big difference between a bruised shoulder and a clavicle fracture. Someone with a broken collarbone usually would have received a blow or been involved in a collision. Immediately following the incident, the shoulder droops or shortens relative to the other shoulder. Some people have to hold up the damaged arm with the opposite arm. Swelling, bruising, instability, and crepitus of the shoulder are other signs of a fracture.

How long does the pain last?

Clavicle fractures can occur in 3 different places, with most happening in the middle third of the collarbone. Some lateral breaks happen closer to the shoulder and coracoclavicular ligament. Even less occur near the sternum. An orthopedic surgeon will assess the shoulder with a physical exam and x-rays before deciding on treatment. As long as the bone is not 100% displaced, doctors will usually suggest a sling or special brace to keep the shoulder in place. The pain depends on the degree and location of the injury. Clavicle fractures near the sternum have the least pain. Midshaft breaks are the most painful, lasting several weeks. Certain methods can help keep pain at a minimum.

1. Stay still

The advice sounds simple, but mobilizing the arm is the best way to reduce pain. The arm will be in a sling, and movement should be minimized as much as possible. A unique sling called a figure 8 sling can further stabilize the shoulder and arm. The figure 8 sling doubles and wraps over the shoulders and under the armpits. The harness keeps the shoulder in place, reducing pain in the process.

2. Trust in ice

Patients will notice increased pain and tenderness in the days after the collarbone injury. Symptoms are common and a sign of inflammation. Cold therapy helps reduce inflammation and relieve pain for short periods. Apply the ice pack for 10-20 minutes every hour or as the doctor advises.

3. Use pain medication

Pain medication is the best option for managing pain. As the shoulder heals, there will be pain, tenderness, and inflammation. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can often provide a good amount of relief for patients. Sometimes, a doctor will prescribe more potent painkillers like an opioid for short periods. Make sure to follow the guidance of the doctor to avoid dependency.

Manage pain the right way

Clavicle fracture pain can last at least 2 weeks, gradually decreasing over time. Most cases will need 6-8 weeks of non-surgical treatment for a full recovery. There will be some shoulder and arm strength loss, but the injury can usually heal without surgery. During the recovery process, stabilization of the arm, cold therapy, and pain medication can make daily living more comfortable. Over time, physical therapy helps to regain movement. Take things slowly for a fast recovery.

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