Discover all your options! Broken collarbones (clavicles) are surprisingly common; at the right angle of impact, they're devilishly easy to snap. Luckily they are one of the fastest bones to heal and don't need a cast so they're a cinch to heal, right?? Actually, breaking your collarbone can have damaging long-term impacts, so reading up on all of your treatment options is an important first step to a complication-free future. Most doctors simply send you home with a sling, so it's up to you to do the research to get your bone healed right.
--X-RAY-- Get your hands on an x-ray of your collarbone. Take a cell phone photo of your x-ray at the hospital or orthopedic clinic if you have to.
--TYPE OF FRACTURE-- What kind of fracture do you have? A hairline fracture just has a crack in the bone and the bone is still in one piece. A simple fracture is where the bone is in two and only two pieces. A multiple fracture has the bone in more than two pieces. A compound fracture is where a piece of the bone broke through the skin at some point. (Note that the bone often reenters the body after piercing the skin, so look for a puncture or cut at the break site.)
--SLING-- Will a sling work for you? Slings work extremely well with hairline fractures, moderately well for simple fractures with little overlap of the pieces, poorly for multiple fractures, and should NOT be used for compound fractures (as there is a high chance the bone became contaminated and needs surgical cleaning.) If you have a compound fracture, skip to step 7.
--FIGURE-OF-8 BRACE-- If you are considering a sling, also consider the figure-of-8 brace, show at left, especially if: (1) Your break is fresh--preferably less than one week old (2) Your livelihood depends upon manual labor or physical use of the shoulder on the side of your fracture (3) Surgery is undesirable due to the financial burden. It is best at forcing your clavicle into a well-aligned position, and although it is less comfortable, it can be WELL worth it.
--6 WEEK TREATMENT-- If you chose either the sling or figure-of-8 brace, use it consistently for at least six weeks and avoid any motions or lifting that cause any pain or involve moving your elbow out away from your side. Ending treatment early can cause incomplete healing and chronic pain. Enjoy sharing knowing glances and smiles with all the strangers you meet on crutches/in a sling/cast during this period.
--FOLLOW UP-- Return to a doctor to get follow-up x-rays of your collarbone. If it healed in a nice, aligned position, congrats! You're lucky! Skip to step 9 for rehab. If the collarbone healed but the two ends of the bone are overlapping, especially if by more than 1/2", go to the next step. Also, if the two ends of the bone healed poorly or not at all ("disunion" or "malunion" of the bone) go to the next step.
--SURGERY-- It's time to talk surgery (immediately if it's compound.) There are two main types of surgery: a plate screwed onto the bone (especially for multiple fractures) or a pin inserted lengthwise into the bone (especially for simple fractures.) The plate treatment is more common but creates a much longer and more visible scar. If your livelihood depends upon your appearance (model/actor/actress/gold digger) it is recommended you use the pin method.
--POST-OP-- After surgery, keep the arm in a sling for several weeks. Even as the swelling and pain decrease, try to baby your collarbone; a complete and full recovery will help ensure a pain-free long-term. Follow your doctor's orders; your bone should be fully healed after 12 weeks at the most but you will be able to slowly increase activity starting soon after surgery.
--REHAB-- After your long recovery, your strength and range of motion in the applicable arm will have decreased significantly. Find a GRADUAL rehabilitation program that fits you (either through your doctor or online.) A basic rehab routine to get you started is listed under resources.