Broken Collarbone

Injuries to the upper limbs account for over 20% of all skiing injuries, but these types of injuries are not nearly as common in alpine skiing as they are in snowboarding. Acute injuries such as fractures are normally caused by colliding with other skiers or falling heavily onto an outstretched hand.

Where is the Collarbone?

The collarbone, or clavicle, is the bone that sticks out on either side of the shoulders and is attached to the sternum (breast bone). It is the only bone that links the shoulder joint with the rest of the body and it provides protection to nerves and blood vessels in the shoulder and upper chest region.

What Causes a Broken Collarbone?

It can become fractured following a traumatic blow to the shoulder during a fall or collision. It can also happen when you use your hand to protect yourself when you fall. The impact of the fall is absorbed by the hand and the force from it travels up to the collarbone, causing a fracture if the impact is strong enough. The collarbone is the most commonly fractured bone in the body and is the most frequent upper body fracture in skiing. The collarbone is made up of an inner, middle and outer section. The segment between the middle and outer part of the bone is the part that is fractured the most often.

What are the Symptoms?

The shoulder will be swollen and painful, and bruising will probably appear. The collarbone may look or feel misshapen and fracture fragments may jut outwards because the bone is so close to the surface of the skin.

Can You Prevent a Broken Collarbone?

This type of acute injury can be extremely difficult to prevent because it often results from a sudden fall or collision, which cannot be foreseen. The ski slope is particularly hazardous because of its slippery, uneven terrain and bad weather conditions may restrict your vision or affect your movements. However, if you are a novice skier, having lessons before your skiing holiday will give you more control over your movements and make you steadier on your feet, lessening the chances of you falling. Also, since many collarbone injuries are caused by colliding with other skiers, skiing at less busy times will reduce the risk of you bumping into someone because there will be less skiers on the piste.

How is a Broken Collarbone Treated?

Unless the fracture is extremely serious, most can be healed by wearing a sling or figure of 8 bandage for 4-6 weeks, during which time you should keep the shoulder completely immobilised and won't be able to ski. Physiotherapy treatment will help to rehabilitate and strengthen the shoulder until it is completely healed and mobile again. If the collarbone has not healed after 3 months or is not healing in the correct position, surgery may be required, especially if there are complications such as damage to the nerves and blood vessels in the shoulder caused by the fracture. It is quite rare for surgery to be performed for this type of injury though, because the collarbone usually heals very well on its own.

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