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Clavicle: Definition & Fracture Treatment

Instructor: Nadine James

Nadine has taught nursing for 12 years and has a PhD in Nursing research

In this lesson you will learn all about the clavicle bones and areas on the bone in the human body. You'll also explore the anatomy of this upper chest bone and what kinds of fractures that occur with the bone. Treatment for the fracture will be described. Afterwards, test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition

The clavicle is a long, curvy bone that lies horizontally on the upper part of the chest. Lay persons may call the clavicle the 'collarbone'. It extends from the sternum (the long flat bone that forms the chest) to the scapula (the triangular bone just below the shoulder which angles toward the back) forming the front portion of the shoulder. It also makes the connection between the chest and the upper arm.

There's a song you might have learned in your life that applies here. It's a spiritual song called 'Dem Bones.' We're going to change the lyrics and shorten it, but I think you'll get the idea:

Dem bones dem bones gonna walk around

Dem bones dem bones gonna walk around

Dem bones dem bones gonna walk around

Now hear the word of the Lord

The arm bones connected to the shoulder bone

The shoulder bones connected to the collarbone

The collarbones connected to the chest bone

Now hear the word of the Lord

Clavicle Bones in Upper Chest
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There are two clavicle bones - one on the left and one on the right. In the female, the clavicle is shorter and thinner than in the male. Nerves and blood vessels lie underneath the clavicle, so the location of the clavicle in the lower neck area helps to protect the nerves and blood vessels.

Anatomy

Anatomical features (physical structures) of the clavicle include the shaft, the medial end (toward the midline of the body), and the lateral end (away from the midline of the body). The lateral end of the clavicle (also called the acromial end) attaches to the scapula at the acromion process. Medially, the scapula end (also called the sternal end) attaches to the chest (sternum).

There are three additional areas located on the shaft of the clavicle: the anterior and posterior margins and the superior surface. These areas are where muscles and ligaments attach to the clavicle.

Anatomy of Clavicle
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Fracture

Let's say that your brother is ten years old and plays football. He was tackled hard in the game today. It seems the guy who tackled him hit your brother in the upper chest near his neck. The game stops and you brother is taken to the hospital. The doctor takes X-rays and says he has broken his clavicle and needs surgery.

Fracture of the clavicle is very common in people of any age. In fact, they account for about 5% of all fractures seen at the hospital. Males are more prone to fracture than females (68% versus 32%). Children of any age are the most prevalent age group for fractures.

The most common site of fracture on the bone is right in the middle. It usually happens with a blow to the bone but can happen in sports play, car accident, or being hit on the bone with a heavy object.

Symptoms include extreme pain and inability to move the upper arm on the affected side. Other symptoms may include a deformity, drooping of the shoulder, a rubbing sound when trying to raise the arm, and swelling and tenderness at the site. Diagnosis begins when the healthcare professional examines the site and orders an X-ray.

X-ray of Clavicle Fracture
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Treatment

Treatment of a fracture clavicle can be surgical or non-surgical. But when is surgery not required? If the fracture does not displace the bone, it can heal itself. In this case, the healthcare professional will immobilize the arm by placing it in a sling. Pain medication may be over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol or Ibuprofen.

Surgical treatment is required when the bones are no longer in the normal place. Remember the football accident above? He had to have surgery to fix his fracture. The doctor used a pin to fix his fracture, but plates and screws could also be used to hold the bone in place while it's healing. Usually, plates and screws are not removed when the fracture heals but pins are removed. After a period of time, the doctor will have the person begin gradual exercises to start strengthening the bone.

Post Surgical Sutures
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Complications

The major complication of a fractured clavicle is a non-healing bone. Health issues that may contribute to a non-healing clavicle include diabetes and smoking. The elderly are also more prone to slow bone healing.

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