Imagine that you are playing football with your teenage son. You fall directly on top of your shoulder. When you get up, there is intense pain. You might have broken your collarbone (clavicle). It is an extremely common injury, often caused by sports, falls and car accidents. On the other hand, you might have just bruised the bone. You need to check for specific symptoms and take certain actions to determine if the collarbone is actually broken.
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Assess your pain level. A broken collarbone hurts a lot. On a scale from one to 10, with one being no pain at all, determine your pain level. If it is a one to three, then the collarbone is probably not broken. But a five to 10 on the pain scale could indicate a fracture. Touch the area of pain. If a specific point on the collarbone really hurts, this is potentially the fracture site.
Check for an unusual shoulder bump. There might be a hump or a visible shoulder protusion. In addition to intense pain, if you observe an exposed bone or hard lump, this can mean a broken collarbone.
Look at your shoulder in the mirror. If the affected shoulder seems to droop or sag, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says this is a symptom of a broken shoulder. However, it might also be a spinal alignment issue. Notice any skin discolouration or bruising around the site of pain.
Attempt to move the affected shoulder. If your pain is intensified by the movement or you cannot move it at all, then the collarbone could be broken. According to Mayo Clinic, movement that increases shoulder pain or an inability to move it are signs of a broken collarbone. Additionally, a grinding or popping sound upon shoulder lifting is another broken collarbone indication.
Get an X-ray. This is the best and most conclusive test for a broken collarbone, and it will determine if a fracture is present and exactly where it is located.
Tips and warnings
- Children are susceptible to fractured collarbones, so if your child has fallen or been hit, suspect a broken bone.
- Bruising might be present with a broken collarbone, so do not assume it is "only a bruise" without assessing all symptoms.
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