Fractured Shoulder


Shoulder injuries, particularly fractured shoulders, can be both excruciating and incapacitating. A fractured shoulder is a prevalent injury caused by various factors such as falls, sports incidents, or accidents.

It can be challenging to differentiate between a broken bone and a sprain, potentially leading to delayed treatment and complications. Understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for a fractured shoulder is crucial.

What is a Fractured Shoulder?

A fractured shoulder denotes a break in one or more of the bones forming the shoulder joint, including the clavicle, scapula, and humerus. When a shoulder bone fractures, it results in intense pain and hindered functionality.

The severity of shoulder fractures can range from minor cracks to complete breaks, often causing limited movement and discomfort. Shoulder fractures can stem from direct shoulder impact, like falls or sports-related injuries, or from repetitive strain and overuse.

Osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones, can also lead to fractures. Fractured shoulders are relatively common, emphasising the importance of swift diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Treatment methods can vary depending on the fracture’s severity and might encompass non-surgical techniques such as immobilisation and physical therapy, or surgical interventions like open reduction and internal fixation.

Symptoms of a Fractured Shoulder

X-ray image of human fractured shoulder
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Fractured shoulders present a range of symptoms, varying based on the fracture’s severity and location. Common indicators include:

  • Pain: Pain is the most prevalent symptom, often severe and either persistent or intermittent. Movement exacerbates the pain, which might be felt in the shoulder, upper arm, or neck.
  • Swelling: Fractured shoulders can lead to swelling around the injured area, accompanied by bruising or discoloration.
  • Limited Arm Movement: Depending on the fracture site, mobility of the arm and shoulder might be compromised, making arm lifting or specific movements challenging.
  • Tenderness: The affected region is likely to be tender to the touch, causing discomfort while resting or sleeping.

Seeking medical attention promptly upon experiencing these symptoms is crucial, as only a medical professional can provide an accurate diagnosis and suitable treatment.

Causes of a Fractured Shoulder

Middle aged asian woman suffers from shoulder joint pain or osteoporosis.
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Direct impact or trauma to the shoulder region is the primary cause of fractured shoulders. Common culprits include falls, sports injuries, and vehicular accidents. However, underlying bone conditions such as osteoporosis, weakening bones and making them susceptible to fractures, can also contribute. While anyone can sustain a shoulder fracture, certain risk factors heighten the likelihood, such as:

  • Age: Elderly individuals are more prone due to reduced bone strength.
  • Gender: Women, with lower bone density compared to men, face increased risk.
  • Occupation: Physically demanding jobs can elevate the risk of shoulder fractures.
  • Sports: Activities like skiing and football exhibit higher rates of shoulder fractures.
  • Fracture History: A previous fracture can increase the chances of experiencing another.

To mitigate fracture risk, maintaining bone health is vital, particularly as we age. This entails sufficient calcium and vitamin D intake, regular exercise, and avoidance of bone-weakening habits like smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

Treatment Options for a Fractured Shoulder

Physiotherapist giving shoulder therapy to a woman
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Upon diagnosis of a fractured shoulder, treatment plans hinge on factors like injury severity, location, overall health, and personal preferences. Choices span non-surgical methods to surgical procedures, sometimes combining multiple approaches.

Non-Surgical Approaches

For milder cases, non-surgical interventions might be recommended to allow natural bone healing. These encompass:

  • Immobilisation: The doctor may immobilise the shoulder using a sling or brace to stabilise the bone and alleviate pain.
  • Physical Therapy: A tailored exercise regimen, designed by a physical therapist, aids in regaining shoulder strength and range of motion post-healing.

Surgical Interventions

Surgery may be necessary for severe fractures or if non-surgical methods prove inadequate. Surgical options include:

  • Open Reduction and Internal Fixation: This procedure involves repositioning bone fragments and securing them with hardware like plates and screws for proper healing.
  • Shoulder Replacement: In rare instances of extensive bone damage, shoulder replacement surgery replaces damaged bone with an artificial joint.

The doctor will discuss each option’s pros and cons, curating a personalised treatment plan catering to individual needs.

Recovery and Rehabilitation for a Fractured Shoulder

Recovery from a fractured shoulder demands patience, commitment, and adherence to medical instructions. While healing times vary based on the fracture’s severity, feeling improvement within weeks to months is typical.

Caring female physiotherapist giving exercise with dumbbell treatment about arm and shoulder.
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Key facets of recovery include allowing proper bone and tissue healing, usually necessitating a phase of immobilisation (sling or cast). Subsequent phases involve physical therapy to regain strength, flexibility, and range of motion.

Frequently Asked Questions about Fractured Shoulders (FAQs)

How long does it take for a fractured shoulder to heal?

Typically, a fractured shoulder can take several weeks to months to heal, depending on the severity and type of the fracture. Simple fractures may heal in 6-8 weeks, while more complex fractures can take several months.

What do they do for a fractured shoulder?

Treatment for a fractured shoulder varies based on the type and severity of the fracture. It can range from wearing a sling or shoulder immobiliser to keep the shoulder in place, to surgery for more severe fractures. Physical therapy may also be recommended to restore movement and strength.

Can you move your shoulder if it’s fractured?

While some movement might be possible, it’s generally not advisable to move a fractured shoulder as it can worsen the injury and impede healing. Pain and swelling often limit the range of motion in the affected shoulder.

How painful is a shoulder fracture?

A shoulder fracture is typically quite painful. The intensity of the pain can vary based on the type and severity of the fracture, but it’s usually sharp and increases with movement or pressure on the shoulder.