Collarbone pain can be excruciating, and is very common among athletes, especially hockey and football players who often suffer injuries to their collarbone (also known as the clavicle).
The collarbone is a short, curved bone that runs across the top of the chest, sitting between the neck and shoulder.
Fracturing the collarbone is the most common bone injury, as is the resulting clavicle pain.
Because the collarbone has a great deal to do with how the upper body manages weight, any injury to the clavicle can make using the arms and hands difficult, if not impossible.
After an injury, pain in the collarbone is typically felt when the arm or hand is moved—and sometimes even when not moving
In This Article:
- What Causes Pain in the Collarbone?
- Is There a Connection Between Jaw, Neck, Shoulder, and Collarbone Pain?
- Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Collarbone
- Natural Treatment Options for Clavicle or Collarbone Pain
- Complications of Clavicle or Collarbone Pain
- Tips to Cure Collarbone Pain
- Tips to Prevent Collarbone Pain
What Causes Pain in the Collarbone?
There are a number of reasons that pain in the collarbone or pain under the collarbone can occur. You may have slept in an awkward position, or you could be suffering from a condition like thoracic outlet syndrome or distal clavicular osteolysis. If you damaged the left side, you will feel left collarbone pain, and the same for the right side.
- Distal clavicular osteolysis: This is also known as “weightlifter’s shoulder” because of the excessive pressure placed on the shoulder joint by lifting heavy weights. The pain is worse when sleeping on your side.
- The deterioration of the collarbone’s distal end doesn’t just occur in gym rats. It’s also a common condition among those who activate their clavicle regularly. This could include construction workers or contractors who do a lot of hammering, air-hammer operators, soldiers, or athletes like baseball players.
- Collarbone fractures: These often happen when playing sports, caused by falling on the shoulder or sometimes by an outstretched arm or hand meant to break a fall. Car accidents and direct blows to the collarbone can also cause fractures. Babies can also have their clavicles damaged during vaginal deliveries.The fractures are classified as single or compound fractures. Single fractures occur when the bone breaks without any other damage to surrounding tissue or organs. A compound fracture occurs when the break damages other tissue and organs, and can lead to greater pain and a longer or more strenuous healing process.
- Acromioclavicular joint injuries: Injuries to this joint can cause immediate pain, swelling, and displacement of the clavicle. The acromioclavicular joint connects the three main joints of the shoulder, and when it’s injured the ligaments become strained and cause pain. It’s particularly noticeable when reaching overhead, pushing or pulling—so almost any time the shoulder joint is activated.Sometimes called shoulder separation injuries, these are often seen after car and bicycle accidents, as well as among active or athletic children and young adults in contact sports.
- Osteoarthritis of the acromioclavicular joint: This is a joint under continuous use, so wear and tear is bound to happen, leading to degeneration of cartilage. This condition will be noted by pain and popping when the joint is moved, including turning during sleep.Osteoarthritis is also characterized by the development of osteophytes, or abnormal bony growths, in the joints.
- Cancer: Although rare, it is possible to develop bone cancer in the collarbone and surrounding area. It can be detected by swelling and pain, and possibly some unexplained stiffness. The cancer may originate in the collarbone or spread to the region from nearby organs such as the lungs.
- Sternoclavicular joint dislocation: The relatively infrequent form of dislocation occurs where the sternum and clavicle meet, and injury would typically result from acute trauma like a car accident or football tackle. Although they are quite painful, dislocations on the anterior (front) side tend to heal on their own without the need for surgery because of the structure in the area. If a dislocation occurs on the posterior (back) side, it can cause potentially life-threatening complications.
- Infections of the clavicle: Bones can become infected if bacteria or fungi settle there. Also called osteomyelitis, the infection is most commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus, which travels through the bloodstream to the clavicle. Symptoms may include swelling, pain, fever, and redness, and should be examined immediately. The clavicle is located close to a number of major organs, including the heart and lungs, and the effects of the infection spreading can be dangerous.
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that can happen when the blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib—the thoracic outlet—come under pressure. Due to repetitive movement, injury, or an abnormal anatomy, the nerves and blood vessels of connective tissue get pinched and can result in pain in the shoulders and neck, as well as limbs farther away from the area itself. Pain; numbness; and tingling in the arms, fingers, and hands is also common. In this case, discomfort in the extremities may be present even if pain in the collarbone and neck is limited.
- Bad posture: Bad posture can lead to joint pain and potentially damage that can be felt in the clavicle (collarbone) area. The clavicle is a complex network of nerves, muscles, tendons, and ligaments that can be stressed when consistently held in compromising positions. Slumped shoulders and keeping your head down are two common posture issues that can lead to pain in the clavicle or collarbone area. Collarbone pain from sleeping can also occur from pressure to the area or strange neck and head positioning.
- Bursitis: Bursitis can be a very painful condition that occurs when the little, fluid-filled sacs that cushion the bones, muscles, and tissue in your joints become inflamed. These sacs—called bursae—can become inflamed and painful with excessive usage.
Is There a Connection Between Jaw, Neck, Shoulder, and Collarbone Pain?
Overall, there is no direct connection that the jaw has with the neck, shoulder, and collarbone as it relates to pain, aside from perhaps some very unusual circumstance. If a full-on collision or injury from some other blunt force trauma has caused extensive damage to the collarbone and surrounding areas, pain could certainly radiate to other areas in close proximity.
Neck and collarbone pain, along with shoulder pain, can certainly exist simultaneously. The trapezius muscle connects these three parts, so damage to one could cause pain to be felt in the other areas.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of a Broken Collarbone
Signs of a broken collarbone are:
- A limited range of motion; it hurts to move your arms and shoulders in certain ways.
- A slumping of the shoulder at the site of the break.
- The skin will bulge and bruise.
- A grinding feeling or sound is present. This isn’t the actual bone grinding against anything, but rather it’s an indication that air has entered the area. This condition is referred to as crepitus.
- A sudden, sharp pain when the break actually happens.
- A dull, constant ache that persists after the initial break.
Natural Treatment Options for Clavicle or Collarbone Pain
Treating a broken collarbone can be done naturally, and possibly with faster results than if no natural treatment was used. A typical collarbone injury takes anywhere from four to six weeks to heal. Some natural treatments to consider for healing are outlined below.
- Drink herbal tea: Drink a comfrey and willow tea a few times throughout the day. Comfrey helps heal bones and tissues, and willow, which is what aspirin is derived from, helps to relieve pain.
- Apply arnica gel: Arnica has been used for centuries to help heal bruises and inflammation, and to ease joint and muscle pain. Apply to the injured area a few times a day.
- Apply ice: An ice compress will help alleviate pain, swelling, and inflammation.
- Eat a calcium-rich diet: Calcium is essential to developing and maintaining strong bones.
Complications of Clavicle or Collarbone Pain
Most collarbone injuries heal without complications, but when they do occur can include the following:
- A lump in the bone: This can happen where the bone knits together, and it usually fades over time, but it can be permanent and visible because the collarbone sits so close to the skin.
- Delayed healing: Some injuries simply take longer to heal.
- Osteoarthritis: A break in the bone can lead to arthritis in these joints.
- Injury to the nerves and blood vessels: A broken collarbone’s jagged ends can injure vessels and nerves that are nearby. If you feel numbness in the surrounding area, see a doctor.
Comminuted (reduced to tiny fragments) or displaced clavicle fractures may also produce complications such as refracture, hemopneumothorax (blood and air in the chest cavity), nonunion, or malunion.
Tips to Cure Collarbone Pain
After an injury to the clavicle, pain will ensue for the weeks that it takes to heal.
To ensure the collarbone heals properly, creating and sticking to an aftercare program is critical.
To prevent further pain to the injured area and encourage safe healing, follow these tips.
- Stay on any medication the doctor has prescribed for pain.
- Avoid wearing tight shirts and other clothing. Go shirtless if and when possible. For women, just don’t wear a bra.
- Use ice often to help bring down any swelling and inflammation.
- Lie down on your back as often as possible to help take the strain off the shoulders.
- Keep good posture.
- Allow yourself the time to heal and plan your life for the next month with this in mind.
- Limit activity, especially lifting and twisting motions.
- Do not use ibuprofen or naproxen for the first 24 hours after your injury, because they promote further bleeding.
- Talk to your doctor about physical therapy or workouts with a personal trainer.
Tips to Prevent Collarbone Pain
There are a few measures you can take to prevent collarbone pain and potential injury, most of which involve keeping the area strong and in proper position. Reduce the risk for collarbone pain by:
- Improving posture. Stand with your shoulders pulled back and avoid bending your neck to look at screens. Bring screens to the face and adjust chairs and desks so your computer is at eye level.
- Use ergonomic chairs or standing desks.
- Perform resistance training to strengthen the joint and muscle in the shoulders, back and trapezius. (Warm up first!)
- Lift heavy items safely, using your legs, and avoid too much bending at the trunk.
- Use ladders or platforms as needed to avoid too much overhead reaching.
- Use proper sports equipment.
- Purchase pillows and a mattress that offer support and provide proper alignment.
There are a number of causes for clavicle or collarbone pain that can range from acute injury to overuse to poor posture. Getting to the root of the pain is the first step in receiving proper treatment and maintaining health. If you aren’t at high risk for clavicle or collarbone injury, the best defense is to practice good posture and perform mobility and resistance exercises weekly.
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