A broken shoulder isn’t a common injury, but they do happen. The shoulder joint is a “ball-and-socket” type joint, and a trauma to the shoulder can fracture either the “ball”—the head of the humerus or upper arm bone—or the glenoid socket which it sits in.
Shoulder trauma itself is fairly common, and the type of injuries it gives rise to range from a separated shoulder resulting from a fall or from sports to a broken clavicle (collar bone) or scapula (shoulder blade) as the result of a car crash or other high-speed impact.
In this blog, orthopedic shoulder surgeon Dr. Francis Mendoza will explain the most common causes of severe shoulder fractures.
What are the symptoms of severe shoulder fractures?
The symptoms of a severe shoulder fracture typically include pain and swelling in the shoulder, tenderness to the touch, and an inability to move the arm on the injured side without pain. There may be a bump or other deformity at the site of the fracture, and the upper arm may be bruised and discolored.
What are the most common causes of severe shoulder fractures?
A fracture to the proximal humerus—that is, the end of the upper arm bone closest to the shoulder joint and the head of the bone itself—or the collar bone (clavicle) can be caused by a direct blow. This may be any type of blunt force, such as a car wreck, a fall, or a collision with an object (or even another person, if the force is great enough—two football players running into one another at top speed, for instance.)
The scapula (shoulder blade), is better-protected than the clavicle. It’s cushioned by layers of muscle and is protected by the chest itself. This means that fractures of the shoulder blade are most often caused by high-impact trauma such as car crashes.
Fractures of all types are categorized as being either displaced, which means that the bone is broken into two or more pieces and the pieces have slipped out of or been forced out of their normal anatomical position, or non-displaced. Non-displaced fractures are simpler, in that the bones are still in their proper places.
Most shoulder fractures—nearly 80 percent, in fact—are of the non-displaced variety. In these cases, treatment consists of simply immobilizing the shoulder and arm with a sling until the bones heal. This generally takes about six weeks.
The remaining 20 percent, however, are displaced fractures, and may require some sort of manipulation (“setting” the bone) to return the bone fragments to their correct anatomical position. In some cases, the rotator cuff muscles are also torn or otherwise injured when the shoulder fractures, which can make treatment more complicated.
What are the treatments for severe shoulder fractures?
Most non-displace fractures simply require the shoulder and arm to be immobilized with a sling until the bones heal sufficiently to allow movement without pain or fear of displacing the bone fragments. X-rays are used to determine the degree of healing periodically, and when healing has progressed far enough stretching and strengthening exercises may be prescribed. It’s essential to maintain flexibility of the elbow and fingers even while resting the injured shoulder.
If the fracture is of the displaced type, surgery may be necessary and the break may need to be stabilized with pins, plates, screws, or wires. If the head of the humerus is split, crushed, or otherwise too severely injured, a shoulder replacement might be necessary.
Where can I find treatment for shoulder fractures in NYC?
For proper treatment, it’s essential to make the distinction between a shoulder fracture and a shoulder dislocation. Dr. Mendoza is a top orthopedic shoulder surgeon in NYC, with the expertise to make an accurate diagnosis and treat even the most severe shoulder fractures. If you’ve suffered a shoulder injury, contact Dr. Mendoza today to schedule your appointment.