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Shoulder Fracture

A fractured shoulder may involve a broken collarbone (clavicle), shoulder blade (scapula), upper arm (humerus), or the shoulder cup (glenoid). This injury might occur when someone falls against an outstretched hand or receives a direct blow to the shoulder.

Sprains, strains, or dislocations may occur at the same time as a fracture. It may be hard to tell the difference between a bad sprain and a fracture.

Signs of a fracture may include:

  • A pop or snap heard or felt at the time of the injury.
  • A shoulder that looks misshapen or out of its normal position.
  • A bone that is or was poking through the skin or is visible in a wound (if it is an open fracture).

Symptoms of a fracture may include:

  • A grating sound or feeling.
  • Pain that is likely to increase with shoulder or arm movement or when pressure is applied to the area.
  • Swelling and bruising that appear within 30 minutes of the injury.
  • Limited shoulder movement (because of weakness, not just pain) or new movement where there is no joint.
  • Loss of normal feeling in the shoulder. The injured area may feel numb and tingly.

Recovery time for a fracture varies depending on the person's age and health and the type and severity of the fracture. A minor break in a child's shoulder may heal completely in a few weeks. In an older person, a serious fracture may require months to heal, and normal shoulder motion may never return.

Initial treatment focuses on keeping the injured shoulder from moving by using a sling or shoulder immobilizer, applying ice, and taking measures to relieve pain. Early physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder and regain motion is important for recovery. Surgery may be needed in some cases. An untreated shoulder fracture may result in long-term pain, limited shoulder movement, and deformity.

Last Revised: August 23, 2011

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & David Messenger, MD

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