The collarbone or the clavicle is a short, bent bone that runs from the center of chest to the end part of the shoulders and is located just above the first rib bone from the top.
Collarbone pain may occur due to shoulder injuries or direct impact on the clavicle, which causes it to fracture or suffer other injuries. Sometimes infection of bone or degeneration of associated cartilage may result in collarbone pain.
The collarbone’s main function is to provide structural support between the arms and the shoulder blade, join the body to the upper limbs, and facilitate optimal movement of the hands. It also helps cushion an impact or blow and pass the weight or force on the arms to the center of the body.
Muscles do not surround the collarbone as it is present just below the skin surface. This is why there are higher chances of clavicle fractures or injuries and resultant collarbone pain.
Collarbone Pain – Causes
Collarbone pain may occur due to the below listed causes:
- Broken collarbone
- The collarbone may get fractured when playing contact sports; cushioning a fall with an outstretched arm; being in motor vehicle accidents; falling down right on the shoulders; and direct impact to the shoulder area.
- Newborns delivered via natural childbirth may suffer from collarbone fracture due to any kind of trauma during labor/delivery. The collarbone is soft and incompletely formed in babies; it becomes mature in the teens. Hence, infants and kids are prone to shoulder injuries and collarbone pain.
- Collarbone pain caused by broken clavicle may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:
- Clavicle fracture may trigger severe collarbone pain in the upper area of the chest and shoulders. Pain can be easily felt when the hands are moved around.
- Patients may find it difficult to move the arms. Forceful movement of the hands may be marked by occasional popping sounds.
- Patients may also experience swelling, bruising, and tenderness at the affected site as well as nausea and dizziness.
- Broken collarbone cannot be seen in newborns. It also cannot be felt by touch. Infants and kids with collarbone pain may show their distress by not moving the fractured arm or by holding the arms along the side of the body. After they fracture has healed, a bony bump/protrusion may be visible at the affected site.
- Treatment of collarbone pain caused by broken clavicle involves the following:
- Immobilization of the arm with the broken collarbone and supporting it via a sling. Recovery may occur in about 11 to 12 weeks.
- Ice packs on affected shoulder can ease the swelling, pain, and inflammation
- Physical therapy is required post recovery to add strength to the shoulder
- Surgery may be needed to correct and repair fractures marked by penetration of skin and/or severe clavicle displacement
- Injury/trauma of AC/Acromioclavicular joint
- The AC joint connect the outer end of scapula to the collarbone and is supported by 3 ligaments. Rupture or sprain of the ligaments can trigger AC joint injuries and collarbone pain. Other causes include forceful blow to the sides of upper body, direct impact on shoulders, and lifting heavy things that cause increased pressure on AC joint.
- Collarbone pain caused by AC joint injuries may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:
- Visible displacement of the clavicle
- Instant pain along with inflammation and swelling may occur depending on the intensity and extent of AC joint injury
- Physical activities like stretching up, pulling, and pushing, etc., may worsen collarbone pain.
- Treatment of collarbone pain caused by AC joint injuries involves the following:
- Slings are used for healing of joint fractures
- Rupture of coracoclavicular ligaments, severe displacement of collarbone, and other severe AC joint injuries may require surgical repair and restoration.
- Mild sprains, twists, or strains of ligaments or joints can be treated with physical therapy. Physical therapy also strengthens the collarbone.
- Osteoarthritis of the AC joint
- The articular cartilage acts as a cushion by absorbing shocks and thus helps protect the acromioclavicular joint. It can degenerate due to continuous use and wear and tear. Ac joint injuries may also sometime cause the articular cartilage to erode. AC joint osteoarthritis may occur as part of aging or excess lifting of heavy objects over the head.
- Collarbone pain caused by acromioclavicular joint osteoarthritis may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:
- The shoulders, neck, and frontal chest area may be tender and painful
- Collarbone pain is throbbing yet mild
- Crossing the hands across the chest can cause the joint to compress, which can worsen collarbone pain
- Treatment of collarbone pain caused by acromioclavicular joint osteoarthritis involves the following:
- Lots of bed rest
- Mild pain can be alleviated with anti-inflammatory drugs while severe swelling, collarbone pain, and inflammation require cortisone injections
- Severe osteoarthritis of the AC joint is treated via surgical resection arthroplasty
- Acute collarbone osteomyelitis
- Osteomyelitis or bone infection may occur due to bacteria that pass into bones via the bloodstream or from an adjacent injury. It is uncommon and may occur after surgical correction of head or neck conditions.
- Collarbone pain caused by acute osteomyelitis may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:
- Severe collarbone pain
- Inflammation or swelling of affected area
- The infected bone site may elicit redness and warmth
- Treatment of collarbone pain caused by acute osteomyelitis involves the following:
- Hospitalization and intravenous administration of antibiotics for a period of 6 to 8 weeks
- Bone surgery for severe infections
- Distal clavicular osteolysis
- Collarbone pain may also occur when its distal section is fractured. Excess stress on AC joint due to bench press exercises or lifting very heavy objects or nonstop force/stress on shoulders can trigger such fractures.
- Collarbone pain caused by distal clavicular osteolysis may be accompanied by below listed symptoms:
- The joints and shoulders may experience pain. Exerting pressure on the joints can worsen the pain
- Sleeping on one side of body can aggravate collarbone pain
- Treatment of collarbone pain caused by distal clavicular osteolysis involves the following:
- Bed rest
- Changes to exercise regimen
- Distal clavicle resection surgery is done if medications or other non-invasive options do not result in healing and recovery