Have you recently experienced severe trauma to your shoulder during a fall or other accident?
Have you been in a car or other motor vehicle accident or did you get injured playing a sport?
You should be evaluated for a shoulder fracture or broken shoulder as soon as possible.
Broken shoulders and shoulder fractures are fairly uncommon and are usually the result of a traumatic injury from an accident, fall, or collision.
There are two types of shoulder fractures – displaced and non-displaced – and depending on the type of shoulder injuries you’ve suffered, you may or may not need surgical treatment.
What is a Shoulder Fracture?
A shoulder fracture is a fracture or break to the shoulder bones – when you experience a shoulder fracture, there is a break to the humerus (the “ball” of your shoulder) or the glenoid (the “socket” of your shoulder).
The majority of shoulder fractures can be treated with physiotherapy and other non-surgical measures, but depending on the type and location of the fracture in the shoulder surgery may be required in order to prevent the joint from healing in an incorrect position.
Shoulder fractures can be displaced or non-displaced.
Non-displaced shoulder fractures make up around 80% of all shoulder fractures or shoulder breaks.
Non-displaced shoulder fractures are generally less serious and do not require surgical treatment.
On the other hand, displaced shoulder fractures or displaced broken shoulders tend to require some type of surgical manipulation in order to mend the fracture.
Be aware that the rotator cuff muscles can be injured or torn in the process, and there are other shoulder injuries or issues that can occur at the same time or after a broken shoulder. This may affect the course of treatment and the possibility of needing surgical intervention for your shoulder fracture.
The Muscles of the Shoulder
The shoulder joint is one of the most complex parts of the body.
They are made up of the humerus (your upper arm bone), the scapula (your shoulder blade), and the clavicle (your collarbone).
The ball and socket aspect is composed of the upper end of the humerus which fits into the socket of the scapula – this is referred to as the glenoid.
The bony bumps on the upper part of the acromion and coracoid connect the scapula to the collarbone.
All of these bones are surrounded by thick layers of muscle that connect the upper arm to the thorax or chest wall.
What Causes a Shoulder Fracture?
Shoulder fractures tend to be the result of a major incident while engaging in certain sports, the result of a major motor vehicle accident, or the result of a significant fall.
The shoulder blade or scapula is rarely broken (breaks in the shoulder blade account for less than one percent of all shoulder fractures) since it is one of the strongest bones in the human body.
But it does happen and broken shoulders or fractured shoulders often occur in conjunction with other injuries to the chest wall and related organs, so anything potentially related to a fractured shoulder should be checked out right away.
Motor vehicle accidents, severe sports injuries, or other trauma to the chest and shoulder area are generally the cause of a shoulder fracture.
How Do You Break Your Shoulder?
Motor vehicle accidents, sports injuries, falls, and other types of blunt trauma can cause shoulder fractures.
If you have an acute injury to your shoulder, you should visit the emergency room and find an orthopaedic surgeon who can treat shoulder fractures and related injuries as quickly as possible.
Broken shoulder blades are often accompanied by further injuries to your heart, lungs, neck, and other internal organs, so they should be treated as soon as possible.
What Are the Symptoms of a Fractured Shoulder?
Shoulder pain, swelling, tenderness, discolouration around the shoulder or upper arm, an inability to move your arm without pain or discomfort, and perhaps most obviously, a deformity or bump on your shoulder area all indicate that you may have a shoulder fracture.
A shoulder that looks flattened or otherwise out of proportion may be broken and you should see a doctor and consult with an orthopaedic surgeon as soon as possible.
If moving your injured arm increases the pain, if you have to hold your injured arm close to the body, if you have an inability to lift the affected arm, or even you have pain while taking a deep breath (taking a deep breath moves the shoulder blade, so if it is injured this may cause pain), you may have a broken shoulder.
How is a Fractured or Broken Shoulder Diagnosed?
The symptoms of a fractured shoulder as listed above should all tell your doctor that you are likely at risk of a shoulder fracture and should get X-rays, MRIs, CT scans and any additional tests immediately.
If you’ve been in a car accident, other motor accident, had a major sports injury, or any other serious trauma to your shoulder or upper arm and chest area, you should be checked out for shoulder fractures or any other related injuries.
Be aware that if you think your shoulder is broken, you may have other abdominal injuries or chest injuries that could be life threatening, so you should be evaluated for all of these types of injuries and anything else that could be a problem if you were in a car or other motor vehicle accident, experienced a major injury while playing a sport, or damaged your shoulder in a fall.
Chances are that your broken shoulder will be diagnosed in the emergency room after the incident that caused the injury, but in the meantime, you should immobilise the affected arm and wait for the professionals – including an orthopaedic surgeon who has experience with shoulder issues – to help diagnose the problem and determine the course of treatment for your potentially broken shoulder and the next steps.
How is a Fractured Shoulder Treated?
Physiotherapy and a customised exercise regimen designed by a physiotherapist with experience treating fractured shoulders and related injuries are some of the typical non-surgical options and starting points when you’re trying to heal a fractured shoulder.
Fractured shoulder recovery time can be extensive when left untreated, shoulder fractures can result in arthritis or the shoulder can heal incorrectly or in the wrong position if not surgically corrected.
A non-displaced broken shoulder can typically be immobilised in a sling to ensure that the muscles and bones remain near their standard anatomical positions until they heal; afterwards physiotherapy along with a customised exercise regimen that is meant to support and rebuild the strength in your injured shoulder is essential.
Surgery for a Fractured Shoulder
A broken shoulder can often require surgery, but it is possible to treat a shoulder fracture without surgery depending on the type of break and the patient’s health in general.
A non-displaced broken shoulder is more likely to be able to be treated without surgery but of course, see an orthopaedic surgeon for treatment and to determine your best course of action and how to take care of any shoulder injury.
A surgery for a broken shoulder may require the placement of wires, plates, or screws in order to bring the damaged pieces together. More severe fractures of the humerus might require a shoulder replacement instead (reverse shoulder replacement).
Broken shoulder recovery time can be extensive, especially if you are dealing with a displaced broken shoulder.
You will have physiotherapy and most likely a regimen of icing and heating the shoulder in question, along with specialised exercises and medication.
You may need prescription medications or over the counter medication may suffice depending on the severity of the injury, where you are in the healing process, and your own medical history and needs.
Non-surgical Treatment for a Fractured
Physiotherapy and over the counter pain medication may not be enough to treat a fractured shoulder, so surgery may be often be advised.
If you have a displaced shoulder fracture or displaced broken shoulder, you may need surgery or other additional treatment to ensure that your shoulder heals properly and that you won’t suffer from future issues like arthritis or chronic pain in that shoulder.
It is often the case that a broken shoulder will be put in a sling until your bone fragments start to knit back together; this is typically about 6 weeks but it depends on the damage to your shoulder and your body’s own healing process.
What Issues Are Similar to a Fractured Shoulder?
There are some shoulder injuries or issues that can be similar to a fractured or broken shoulder, such as a torn rotator cuff, torn ligaments or tendons, and breaks in the collarbone and upper arm bones.
Often broken shoulders are part of a more traumatic injury to the upper body such as a direct hit during a car accident or a sports injury, or a fall onto an outstretched arm.
How to Prevent a Shoulder Fracture
Preventing a shoulder fracture or broken shoulder can often be solved by not participating in the sort of activities that tend to be risky, like contact sports or extreme sports.
But of course, that’s not realistic and we all ride in cars or on other motor vehicles.
And accidents happen, so the best thing you can do is be prepared and knowledgeable about what to do if you think you have a broken shoulder.
If you’ve been an accident or experienced an acute injury to your shoulder, you should seek a consultation with an orthopaedic surgeon immediately.
Time might be the difference between the ability to heal the injury via non-surgical treatment as opposed to getting surgery and more extensive physiotherapy.