Fractures of the clavicle (collar bone) are very common. Historically the vast majority of these injuries have been managed without surgery, and indeed most fractures will go on to heal by themselves.
More recently it has been demonstrated that clavicle fractures that heal in an abnormal (especially shortened) position can lead to long term shoulder dysfunction and pain. With modern instruments, implants and techniques, clavicle fracture surgery has become safer and outcomes more reliable. These two factors have seen a more recent trend towards surgical fixation.
That said, clavicle fracture surgery is not without risks and complications. It is important that your surgeon is experienced in both shoulder and trauma surgery to minimise these risks.
How best to treat your clavicle fracture will be an individual decision and very few cases are black and white. Dr Alexander can discuss treatment options with you and ensure that you make the best decision for your individual circumstances.
Surgery for Clavicle Fractures
In most cases, if surgery is performed for clavicle fractures, the bones are secured back into their normal position using a plate and screws. This will adequately stabilise the clavicle to allow you to move your shoulder through its normal range of motion as soon as you are comfortable enough to do so (usually within 24-48 hours).
The fracture will still need to heal following surgery to regain full strength of the clavicle. General advice would be to avoid heavy lifting and resisted exercises for six weeks following surgery and avoid high impact activity (contact or collision sports) for three months to minimise your risk of re-injury.
The clavicle is quite superficial under the skin and it is not uncommon for the plate to be prominent once swelling has resolved and the fracture is healed. It is by no means necessary to remove the plate (orthopaedic implants are designed to remain implanted for life), however if it is sufficiently bothersome, then the plate can be removed once the fracture has completely consolidated (usually 6-9 months following initial surgery).