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Collarbone Pain

Updated on February 11, 2014

Collarbone pain is generally linked to bone injuries and fractures caused via shoulder injuries or direct collarbone trauma. Occasionally, bone infections or cartilage degeneration can also cause collarbone pain.

The clavicle or collarbone is a short, bent bone that extends from the center of the chest area to the shoulders. It joins the upper arms to the body and is situated just above the uppermost rib. Its primary function is to act as a support structure between the arms and the shoulder blade. This facilitates optimum movement of the hands. The collarbone also aids in transferring any weight or impact on the upper arms to the middle part of the body.

The collarbone is located very close to the skin and is not covered by any major muscles. Hence, it can be easily felt. This also increases the risk of the collarbone to fractures, injuries, and subsequent pain. Some of the common causes, symptoms, and treatments for collarbone pain are discussed below.

Collarbone pain due to acromioclavicular/AC joint injuries

  • The AC joint joins the collarbone and the outer end of the scapula. It is supported by 3 ligaments. AC joint injuries are caused due to tearing or spraining of these ligaments.
  • AC joint injuries are commonly caused due to traumatic blow to the sides, direct blows on the shoulders, and increased stress on the joints when lifting heavy objects.

AC joint injuries may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:

  • Depending on the intensity of the injury, patients may experience swelling and immediate pain.
  • The collarbone pain worsens while performing activities such as pulling, pushing, or stretching overhead.
  • Displacement of the clavicle is easily seen.

Treatment of AC joint injury collarbone pain includes:

  • Mild ligament sprains can be treated with physical therapy that begins a few weeks after initial injury. It restores the joint strength.
  • Slings are used for treating fractures.
  • Surgical restoration of the torn coracoclavicular ligaments is recommended for severe collarbone dislocation.

Collarbone pain due to a broken clavicle

  • The collarbone of newborns may get fractured due to a difficult vaginal childbirth. Kids and teens are also at increased risk to collarbone injuries and collarbone pain because the bone only hardens and fully develops in late adolescence.
  • Collarbone injuries and fractures can be caused by falling on shoulders, sports injuries, motor accidents, use of an outstretched hand to break a fall, and direct blows to the shoulder.

A broken collarbone may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:

  • A broken collarbone cannot be felt or seen in babies. However, affected infants may hold their arms against the side of body, or refuse to moveit. Eventual healing of the broken collarbone causes a bulge to form at the spot.
  • A broken collarbone in adults results in intense pain in the shoulders and upper chest area, particularly when moving the arms.
  • Patients may not be able to move their arms. Forced movement can sometimes cause a popping sound.
  • As there is no muscular cover, an abnormal bump can be seen at the affected area or the shoulder.
  • In addition to collarbone pain, patients may experience tenderness, swelling, and bruising of the affected area, as well as dizziness and nausea.

Treatment of broken collarbone pain includes:

  • Immobilization of the fractured arm and providing support with a sling. Complete healing occurs in about 12 weeks.
  • Physical therapy after removal of the sling to restore the shoulder strength.
  • Use of ice packs on the shoulder to alleviate inflammation and pain.
  • Surgical correction is required in cases of skin penetration or severe collarbone displacement.

Collarbone pain due to osteoarthritis of the acromioclavicular joint

  • The articular cartilage acts as a shock absorber and cushions the AC joint. It undergoes degeneration with continuous wear and tear.
  • Aging and lifting heavy objects overhead commonly cause osteoarthritis of the AC joint.
  • The degeneration may sometimes be triggered by an injury to the joint.

It may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:

  • Accompanying collarbone pain is throbbing and minor.
  • Tenderness and pain in the neck, shoulders, and front region of the chest.
  • Compression of the joint via movements like crossing of the arms across the chest can worsen the pain.

Treatment of this cause of collarbone pain includes:

  • Rest and anti-inflammatory drugs for mild collarbone pain, while severe inflammation and pain are treated with cortisone injections.
  • Severe instances are corrected via surgical resection arthroplasty.

Collarbone pain due to distal clavicular osteolysis

  • It is caused due to fractures in the distal section of the collarbone.
  • The fracture can occur due to continuous stress on the shoulders and elevated pressure on the AC joint when doing bench presses or lifting heavy objects.

It may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:

  • Joint and shoulder pain, particularly when pressure is applied on the joints
  • The collarbone pain aggravates when sleeping on the side.

Treatment of this cause of collarbone pain includes:

  • Modifying the exercise regimen and lots of rest.
  • Distal clavicle resection may be required if non-surgical methods do not yield results.

Collarbone pain due to acute osteomyelitis of the collarbone

  • Osteomyelitis or bone infection is mostly caused by bacteria. The infection can be passed from the blood or via an injury.
  • It is an extremely rare condition that often occurs after a head or neck surgery.

It may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:

  • Intense collarbone pain, swelling, and fever.
  • Redness and warmth of the affected region.

Treatment of this cause of collarbone pain includes:

  • Intravenous administration of antibiotics for 6 to 8 weeks
  • Surgery for severe cases

Other causes of collarbone pain
Bone diseases, as well as pain that radiates from injured shoulders, ribs, rotator cuff, and chest.

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