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Fractures of the Shoulder

What is a fracture?

A fracture is a partial or complete break of the bone. Fractures usually result from injury or trauma, such as a fall or motor vehicle accident. A bone can also fracture as a result of overuse or diseases that afflict the joint. Fractures can result in a clean break of the bone, shattering of the bone or protrusion of bone through the skin. Fractures cause severe pain, interfering with normal functioning.

Which bones in the shoulder joint can become fractured?

The shoulder joint is composed of three bones: the humerus (upper arm bone), clavicle (collarbone) and scapula (shoulder blade). All three of these bones are prone fracture as a result of injury, trauma or overuse.

What are the symptoms of a fracture?

Symptoms of a fracture in one of the bones comprising the shoulder joint include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Change in appearance
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Grinding sensation felt in the joint

If you have suffered a recent injury or trauma to your shoulder and are experiencing any of the listed symptoms, it is crucial to make an appointment with a physician.

How is a fracture diagnosed?

A fracture can be easily diagnosed by both a physical examination and the use of X-ray images. Your physician will assess your condition by examining the injured or damaged bone in question.  You will be asked a series of questions about your overall health, symptoms, the nature of your injury and how the injury occurred. An X-ray will be taken to confirm the diagnosis. In some cases, a CT scan may be recommended for a more detailed look at the bone.

How is a fracture treated?

A fracture is treated differently depending on which bone is injured, as well as on the severity of the fracture. Most fractures can be successfully treated without  surgery. Pain can be controlled with the use of medication and ice packs.  A sling or immobilizer is usually recommended to keep the bone in place while it heals completely. If the fracture is severe, in the case of a compound fracture, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is also recommended if the patient is considered to be at a higher risk for arthritis. The bones can be repaired with the use of plates, screws, pins or rods. In some cases in which the humerus has been badly fractured, shoulder replacement may be necessary.

To ensure proper healing, most physicians will advise you to complete a rehabilitation program. Shoulder exercises will be recommended, with or without the assistance of a physical therapist. The purpose of rehabilitation is to ensure proper healing of the bone and joint, as well as restoration of function, flexibility, and full range of motion.


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