The shoulder has greater mobility than any other joint in the body, which makes shoulder fractures very complicated. Shoulder fractures are usually the result of an impact to the shoulder, such as a direct blow, a fall, or a car crash. The severity of the injury is classified according to how many parts of the shoulder are involved—how many pieces it’s broken into.
When a shoulder is fractured, it causes intense pain and loss of mobility. However, the damage often doesn’t end with the bones; soft tissue such as muscles and tendons may be injured as well. In this blog, Manhattan Orthopedic surgeon Dr. Francis Mendoza will explain the treatments for severe shoulder fractures.
What are the symptoms of severe shoulder fractures?
A shoulder fracture causes loss of mobility, and severe pain which is worse when you try to move your arm on the affected side. The location of the pain and the range of mobility you’re left with are to some degree diagnostic, since they vary depending on which part of your shoulder has been fractured. All shoulder fractures, however, include at least one—and possibly more—of these symptoms:
- Intense pain
- Bruising or swelling in the injured shoulder
- The shoulder may be misshapen at the site of the fracture
- Increased pain if you try to move the arm on the injured side
- A grinding sensation when you try to move the shoulder
How are severe shoulder fractures diagnosed?
Shoulder fractures are usually diagnosed through X-ray images, though more technologically advanced techniques such as CT scans may also be used. For proper treatment, it’s essential that the diagnosis be accurate, and that a fracture is not mistaken for a dislocation or vice versa.
What are the treatment options for shoulder fractures?
Fractures, including shoulder fractures, can be either displaced or non-displaced. In a displaced fracture, the bone is broken into two or more pieces, and the pieces have moved out of place and aren’t in proper alignment. In a non-displaced fracture, the bone may still be broken all the way through, but the pieces are still in the correct position.
Nearly 80% of all shoulder fractures are of the non-displaced variety, and often treatment simply involves immobilizing the shoulder with a sling until the bones begin to heal. Once the shoulder has healed enough that the bones won’t be dislodged by moving the arm—and moving the arm is not too uncomfortable—the sling can be dispensed with.
The remaining 20% of shoulder fractures are displaced fractures, which may require more involved treatment. Surgery may be necessary to bring the bone fragments back into correct anatomical alignment and fix them in place with wires, pins, plates, or screws. If the head of the humerus (the “ball” part of the ball-and-socket shoulder joint) is severely damaged—broken, split, or crushed—a total shoulder replacement may be necessary.
Most shoulder fractures, even displaced fractures, heal in about six weeks. However, in some cases the rotator cuff muscles are also torn or otherwise injured when the fracture occurs, and this can complicate treatment. In all cases, it’s essential to maintain flexibility of the other joints—elbow, wrist, and fingers—even while resting the injured shoulder.
Where can I find treatment for my severe shoulder fractures in NYC?
Dr. Mendoza is a NYC orthopedic shoulder surgeon who emphasizes nonsurgical treatments wherever possible while still offering a full range of treatments including surgical treatment.
Dr. Mendoza is a graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons and has served as the Director of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital for many years.
If you’re suffering from a severe shoulder fracture and want the best possible outcome, contact Dr. Mendoza today for a full consultation.