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Definition

What is a broken shoulder blade?

The scapula or shoulder blade is a bony structure found on the upper back that connects the upper arm to the chest wall (thorax). It also forms the socket part of the shoulder joint connecting the upper arm (humerus) to the socket (glenoid). The acromion and coracoid processes are bony bumps found on the upper part of the scapula, and they function to connect the scapula to the collarbone. The scapula is surrounded by thick layers of muscle that are responsible for the smooth movement of the shoulder joint. A heavy force is usually required to break a shoulder blade; therefore, the health care professional will explore other injuries when a patient has a broken shoulder blade. Fractures (breaks) have been reported at the many areas of bone that comprise the scapula.

How common is a broken shoulder blade?

The shoulder blade (scapula) is rarely broken (broken bones are also called fractures). Of all bone breaks, shoulder blade breaks occur less than 1% of the time. Scapular fractures occur more often in young men ages 25 to 45 because of the activities and trauma they encounter. These occur with athletic activities, motor vehicle accidents, and other forms of blunt trauma. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of a broken shoulder blade?

The common symptoms of a broken shoulder blade are:

  • Severe pain when you try to move your arm
  • Inability to lift your arm over your head
  • Swelling, bruising, and skin abrasion at the back of your shoulder blade

Other injuries, especially those caused by trauma, may present the same symptoms as a fractured shoulder blade. All fractures are serious, so it’s important to see a doctor right away if you experience any of the above symptoms.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes a broken shoulder blade?

Scapular fractures are caused by direct trauma involving a large amount of force or violence. Associated injuries to chest wall, lungs, and shoulder occur in up to 80% of people with broken shoulder blades. Common causes of broken shoulder blades include the following:

  • Motor vehicle accidents
  • Falls with direct trauma to the shoulder
  • Falls onto an outstretched arm
  • Direct trauma such as from a baseball bat or hammer

Risk factors

What increases my risk for a broken shoulder blade?

Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is a broken shoulder blade diagnosed?

A doctor will be able to diagnose a broken shoulder blade after a thorough physical examination and imaging.

Shoulder and chest X-rays are taken.

CT scans of the abdomen and chest are sometimes indicated to evaluate other injuries.

MRI or CT scans of the shoulder are sometimes needed to diagnose fractures of the shoulder socket (glenoid).

Fractures of the scapula are sometimes discovered during extensive evaluations after major trauma from falls, motor vehicle accidents, or direct trauma.

How is a broken shoulder blade treated?

Nonsurgical treatment

Most fractured shoulder blades can be treated without surgery. A doctor will provide you with a sling that will hold your shoulder in place while your bones heal.

Your doctor will also give you a prescription for physical therapy to help increase your mobility and reduce stiffness and pain. You will be instructed to rest your shoulder until it’s ready for physical therapy. Physical therapy is often utilized and continues until you gain full mobility of your shoulder. Your doctor will tell you when it’s OK to remove your sling. This usually happens when your pain starts to go away.

Surgery

Certain kinds of shoulder blade fractures must be treated with surgery. These include:

  • Fractures where the glenoid is displaced
  • Severe fractures of scapula neck
  • Acromion fractures that cause the upper arm bone to rub against it

During surgery you will be put under anesthesia. A surgeon will put your bones back into alignment and may attach them together with metal plates, screws, or wires. As with nonsurgical treatment, your surgery will be followed up by rest, and then physical therapy until your full mobility returns.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage a broken shoulder blade?

Because shoulder blade fractures are often associated with severe, potentially life-threatening injuries, they should be evaluated in a hospital’s emergency department.

  • Immobilize the arm immediately. Don’t move it. This can be accomplished with a sling looped over the neck and the bent elbow, which holds the affected arm close to the body.
  • Apply ice to the area to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Apply ice for 20 minutes at a time, and avoid direct contact of the ice to the skin.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: October 27, 2017 | Last Modified: October 27, 2017

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