What Is a Shoulder Fracture?
A shoulder fracture, also known as a broken shoulder, involves a full or partial break of any of the shoulder bones: the humerus (the upper arm bone), the clavicle (the collarbone), or the scapula (the shoulder blade). When any of these bones are fractured, it can impair mobility and cause pain in the shoulder.
Fractures can result from trauma or injury from sports, falls, car accidents, or anything that causes a direct impact on the shoulder. Stress fractures, which are small cracks in the bone, can occur in the shoulder bones due to overuse due to repetitive motions, such as those involved in sports. Chipped bones (small pieces that break off from the main part of the bone) can also occur at the shoulder.
Types of Shoulder Fractures
There are different types of shoulder fractures, classified by the specific bone affected. The three types of shoulder fractures are:
- Proximal humerus fracture. A fracture at the top of the humerus. The humerus is the long bone in the upper arm that extends from the elbow to the shoulder. Proximal humerus fractures can occur at any age, though the risk of a humerus fracture increases with older age.
- Clavicle fracture. A fracture of the clavicle. The clavicle is a thin bone that extends from the sternum (or breastplate) to the shoulder. Clavicle fractures can occur at any age and often result from a fall in which a person lands on either the shoulder or an extended arm. People with a clavicle fracture usually find it difficult or painful to raise the arm, and bruising, swelling, or a bump may appear in the area.
- Scapula fracture. A fracture of the scapula. The scapula is a large bone in the upper back that creates the shoulder blade. Scapula fractures are rare, only accounting for about 1 percent of all fractures. Scapula fractures often require a significant amount of force, so other injuries, such as rib fractures, can often accompany them.
Signs & Symptoms of Fractured Shoulder
Signs and symptoms of shoulder fractures include:
- Shoulder pain and tenderness
- Swelling in the shoulder area
- Bruising or discoloration in the shoulder area
- Loss of range of motion
- A bump or deformity at the site of the injury
- Weakness or tingling in the arm
What Causes Shoulder Fractures?
Shoulder fractures are caused by trauma from direct blows to the shoulder. This trauma can result from:
- Sports injuries
- Motor vehicle accidents
Risk Factors for Shoulder Fractures
Certain factors will increase a person’s likelihood of a shoulder fracture. Possible risk factors include:
- Age. People over 65 have a higher risk of a shoulder fracture
- Having certain bone conditions. Conditions such as low bone density or osteoporosis can weaken the bones and therefore make them more likely to break and fracture.
- Participating in contact sports. Football, hockey, and other sports can increase the risk of injury
- Participating in activities that increase the risk of falling from heights. Horseback riding, rock climbing, or jobs that involve climbing a ladder also come with the risk of injury
- Having a previous shoulder injury. Prior injuries, such as a stress fracture in the shoulder, can raise the risk of shoulder fractures
- Epilepsy. In uncommon cases, the shoulder joint can fracture during an epileptic seizure
Many shoulder fractures and injuries result from accidents that often cannot be prevented. However, regular exercise and stretching can improve strength and flexibility in the shoulder to help reduce the risk of injury.
Other preventive measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of a shoulder fracture may include:
- Wearing a seatbelt when driving or riding in a car
- Proper protective and padded equipment when playing sports
- Taking measures to protect yourself from falling, such as wearing shoes with good grips and stabilizing your ladders
- Taking medication for medical conditions that increase the risk of fractures, such as osteoporosis
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Shoulder Fracture Care
A shoulder fracture is considered a medical emergency requiring either nonsurgical or surgical treatment to heal correctly. Schedule an appointment with the orthopedic specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian if you are experiencing symptoms of a shoulder fracture.
Our medical experts will assess your symptoms to properly diagnose your condition and recommend the best treatment options for you.