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Shoulder Anatomy

The shoulder is the most flexible joint in the body, enabling a wide range of movements. It is a ball-and-socket joint made up of three bones, namely the humerus (upper arm bone), scapula (shoulder blade) and clavicle. The head of the humerus articulates with the socket of the scapula called the glenoid cavity. The clavicle bone or collarbone is an S-shaped bone that connects the scapula to the sternum or breastbone. It forms two joints: the acromioclavicular joint, where it articulates with the acromion process of the scapula, and the sternoclavicular joint, where it articulates with the sternum or breast bone. Tendons and ligaments around the shoulder joint provide strength and stability to the joint.

What is a Shoulder Fracture?

Shoulder Fracture

A break in a bone that makes up the shoulder joint is called a shoulder fracture.

Types of Fractures

The clavicle and end of the humerus closest to the shoulder are the bones that usually get fractured. The scapula, on the other hand, is not easily fractured because of its protective cover by the surrounding muscles and chest tissue.

Causes of Shoulder Fracture

Clavicle and humerus fractures can occur by a direct hit from a motor vehicle accident, collision or fall. A fracture of the scapula can occur by high-energy trauma during an accident from a high-speed motor vehicle.

Signs and Symptoms of Shoulder Fracture

The common signs and symptoms of a shoulder fracture may include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Difficulty in lifting your arm
  • Numbness, tingling or coldness of the hand and forearm
  • The popping sound also referred to as crepitus, heard or felt at the time of the fracture

Diagnosis of Shoulder Fracture

A shoulder fracture is usually diagnosed based on a thorough physical examination, and imaging studies such as X-rays and CT scans.

Treatments for Shoulder Fractures

The treatment for a shoulder fracture is based on the type of fracture. Treatment can include non-surgical and surgical methods.

A broken clavicle bone usually heals without surgery. Non-surgical treatments for shoulder fractures may include immobilization by placing your arm in a sling, pain medication and physical therapy. If the fracture has led to the displacement of the bones, then surgery may be required to correct and fix them with pins, plates or screws.

Post-surgery, physical therapy may be recommended to aid in the recovery and improve range-of-motion and strength of the arm.

Fracture of the Shoulder Blade (Scapula)

The scapula (shoulder blade) is a flat, triangular bone providing attachment to the muscles of the back, neck, chest and arm. The scapula has a body, neck and spine portion.

Clavicle Fracture

The break or fracture of the clavicle (collarbone) is a common sports injury associated with contact sports such as football and martial arts, as well as impact sports such as motor racing. A direct blow over the shoulder that may occur during a fall on an outstretched arm or a motor vehicle accident may cause the clavicle bone to break.

Glenoid Fractures

Fractures of the glenoid are rare but can occur due to major trauma or during high-energy sports activities.

Other Shoulder Conditions

  • Fellow, American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
  • American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Oregon Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of Cambridge
  • Stanford University
  • Oregon Health & Science University
  • University of Washington
  • Oregon Medical Association (OMA)
  • University of California