If you’ve been riding for a while, you or someone you know has likely incurred a broken collarbone in the course of a crash.
“It has to do with the way cyclists tend to fall," says Dr. Brian Cunningham, MD, a Minnesota-based orthopedic trauma specialist. "When you fall directly onto your shoulder, your clavicle [or collarbone]—which has an s-shape—compresses and is prone to breaking.”
You’ll know you’ve broken your collarbone almost immediately, says Dr. Subir Jossan, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with the DC-area Centers for Advanced Orthopedics. It’s not a subtle injury—moving your arm will be agonizing, and you may hear an audible crack as you hit the ground.
The big issue with this break is that when it heals right, it won't impair your long-term function—but that doesn't always happen, and the repercussions extend beyond your collarbone. The collarbone acts as a strut connecting your arm to your chest; any kink in that system could mean you’ll have prolonged problems.
“If it heals in a position where there’s shortness [meaning it doesn’t quite reach the shoulder joint], there may be some weakness,” says Cunningham.
Here's what you need to know about managing a collarbone break, and how to come back stronger.
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What to Do Just After a Break
If you suspect you’ve broken your clavicle, Jossan says you do need to head immediately to your local ER or urgent care center. It’s not that the bone needs to be reset right at that moment, Jossan says, but that “there are some big, important blood vessels around the clavicle that could have been damaged.”
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Once X-rays are done, the severity of the fracture will determine the course of treatment.
- A sling: A tiny, hairline fracture is a pretty simple fix. Usually the doctor will put your corresponding arm in a sling and tell you to come back in six weeks.
- The surgical option: If there’s any sort of displacement—meaning part of the bone has shifted—things get more complicated.