Collarbone Pain (Clavicle Pain) – Causes and Treatments

Collarbone Pain (Clavicle Pain) – Causes and Treatments
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Injury or damage to the collarbone is one of the most common reasons for collarbone pain. The collarbone (also called clavicle) is a long bone that connects your arm to your body. Collarbone injuries are very common among athletes, but you could easily damage or fracture the collarbone if you fall on your arm or fall off a bicycle. However, clavicle pain can also be caused by repetitively overusing your arms, or suffering from medical conditions like arthritis, osteoporosis, or in rare cases cancer.

Apart from the obvious symptom of extreme clavicle pain, a damaged or fractured collarbone can also cause discomfort, bruising, and swelling around the injured area. You could also find it difficult to move your arm without pain and it may be tender to touch.

Usually, to treat collarbone pain, doctors recommend resting the arm to help the ligaments, tendons, and nerves in the shoulder heal properly. Also, some home remedies like ice, a warm compress, and exercising can help to relieve clavicle pain and restore movement to your collarbone and shoulder area. If the collarbone pain is caused by inflammation, then topical treatments containing cayenne pepper, comfrey and ginger can help to give pain relief.

In this article, you will learn about the various causes of collarbone pain and what you can do to relieve pain and discomfort in your shoulder and upper arm.

Causes of Collarbone Pain

Collarbone fracture

A collarbone fracture or broken clavicle is a common cause of pain in your shoulder region. This usually happens as the result of a direct blow to your shoulder or upper arm. So, being involved in an automobile accident, falling on your arm, or being injured playing sport can result in a fractured or broken collarbone.

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that the clavicle is most commonly broken in the middle. The fracture will make it difficult to move your arm and may leave you with a sagging shoulder. Depending on the cause of injury, the area around the collarbone may also be bruised, swollen, and tender when touched.1

Some people with osteoporosis can also easily break their collarbone because their bones are more brittle and prone to breaking easily.

You will need to visit a doctor if your collarbone has been injured and you suspect that it is fractured. Usually, doctors recommend supporting the arm in a sling to restrict movement and limit pain. The bone should heal without surgery, and Dr. William Blahd on WebMD says that it should heal in 6 to 12 weeks.2 In time, physical therapy will help to restore full movement back to your arm and shoulder.

Injury to the collarbone

Obviously not all injuries or trauma to your collarbone result in fractures. You can still have mild to severe collarbone pain even if you haven’t broken the bone.

Injuries to the collarbone are usually caused by the damage to the joint where the clavicle joins the tip of the shoulder blade (this is called the acromion and, therefore, the joint is referred to as the acromioclavicular or AC joint). Injury to this joint can cause a constant dull pain in your shoulder and collarbone.

Two common injuries to the joints where the collarbone joins the shoulder blade and results in excruciating clavicle pain are a separated shoulder and a dislocated shoulder.

Separated shoulder. This is an injury to the AC or acromioclavicular joint where the ligament that connects the shoulder blade and clavicle gets torn. This “separates” the collarbone from the shoulder and it can stick out from the shoulder. This injury to the collarbone usually results in mild to severe pain.3

Dislocated shoulder. A dislocated shoulder causes severe pain and happens when the arm bone pops out of the shoulder blade socket. While this injury doesn’t directly affect the collarbone, it can still affect the clavicle if the injury was severe.

Thoracic outlet syndrome

Pain in your collarbone could be caused by thoracic outlet syndrome. Your thoracic outlet is the space between your collarbone and your top rib. Because this space has many nerves, muscles, and blood vessels, any pressure on these can cause pain in your upper chest and along the length of your shoulder.

According to AAOS, weak shoulder muscles can cause the collarbone to slip down and press on the nerves in the thoracic outlet. Other reasons for pain in the area under the collarbone are injury, disease, poor posture, or obesity.5

The pressure on these nerves can cause pain down the length of your arm, in your back, and neck. You may also have numbness or tingling in your forearm and fingers. Reaching above your head may also be difficult.

Rotator cuff tendinitis

Excessive and repetitive strain on the bones and tendons in your shoulder can cause pain and inflammation in the collarbone area. Your rotator cuff is the muscles and tendons that keep your arm in place. If these are stretched or injured, you will feel mild pain that radiates down your arm.

The AAOS says that rotator cuff tendinitis is common among athletes who swim, play tennis, and baseball. Also, people who also frequently stretch their arms above their head at work (e.g. painters and decorators) are prone to pain in their collarbone and shoulder areas.6

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis can cause pain in the AC joint where the collarbone connects to the shoulder blade. The pain is caused because the cartilage in the joints wears down and this causes friction in the joint. The result is swelling and pain when the ends of the collarbone rub together with the joints in the shoulder.

According to Dr. David Zelman on WebMD, osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition which is common in people over 50 and can also be caused by injury to the collarbone. He says that shoulder osteoarthritis is more commonly found in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint.7

Bursitis

One reason for pain in your collarbone is a condition called bursitis. Most joints in the body contain bursae (small fluid-filled sacs) to help reduce friction and make movement easier. The joint in the collarbone also contain these small sacs that help you to move your arms without pain and also absorb pressure from lifting heavy objects.

Orthopedists say that if the bursae are frequently used under excessive pressure (like in sports) they can become inflamed and swollen. This can cause great pain in your shoulder and restrict the movement of your arms, so much so, that even simple everyday activities become difficult to perform.8

Distal clavicular osteolysis

Micro-traumas to the collarbone joint can cause distal clavicular osteolysis which results in pain and inflammation in the shoulder joints. This is commonly seen in weightlifters because the repeated lifting of heavy weights causes scar tissue to form in the acromioclavicular region.

Symptoms of distal clavicular osteolysis are a lack of movement in the arm, severe aching pain, and inflammation of the joints.9

Cancer

According to Orthopedic publication from June 2010, the clavicle is a rare site for bone tumors. The publication mentioned that benign and malignant lesions in the collarbone had a similar prevalence rate, however, malignant tumors occurred in an older (>50 years) population.17

Due to its rarity, a physician examining a patient with pain around the clavicle will only rarely encounter a bone tumor, compared to the majority of complaints originating from arthritis of the clavicular joints, ligamentous injuries, and fractures of the clavicle.

Natural Treatments for Collarbone Pain

To help speed up the healing process of collarbone pain and help relieve discomfort in the shoulder, here are some of the most effective natural treatments for a painful collarbone.

Ice

If you have injured your collarbone and you have clavicle pain and swelling, you should apply ice to help reduce the collarbone pain.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD, recommends applying an ice pack to the affected area. Hold this on the painful collarbone area for 20-30 minutes at a time, every 3 or 4 hours. Continuing doing this for 2-3 days until the swelling has gone down and you no longer have as much pain.10

Remember – Never place ice directly on the skin, but always wrap it in a clean towel before applying to the skin.

Rest

It’s important to rest any injury to your shoulder or upper arm. This is important to avoid aggravating the injury even more, which could delay the healing process.

To prevent arm and shoulder movement and help the collarbone to heal itself, Dr. Robinson also recommends placing your arm in a sling. This will also help to manage the pain and speed up the healing process.10

Moist heat

If you still have collarbone pain after a few days, or you suffer from a chronic painful condition like osteoarthritis, then applying moist heat can help to relieve discomfort and pain from the inflamed joints.

The Arthritis Foundation recommends using moist heat pads to help get rid of painful joints. You can easily make a moist heat pad by dipping a washcloth in very hot water and squeezing out the excess water. Place the cloth in a freezer bag and put a towel over it. Apply to the clavicle area and hold on for 15 to 20 minutes.11 Do this every time you need relief from a painful collarbone.

Comfrey ointment for collarbone pain

Comfrey ointment can help to get symptomatic and natural pain relief from collarbone pain. Comfrey root has been used for centuries to relieve aching joints and muscles. It can also help to reduce swelling and bruising in injured joints and muscles.

A study in 2013 found that comfrey root extracts contain healing properties that can help to ease back pain, relieve pain and inflammation in people with osteoporosis, and treat pain caused by injuries.12

The easiest way to get natural pain relief with comfrey ointment is to buy it. However, you can also make your own healing comfrey ointment. Apply a little of the ointment to the painful area 2 times a day for up to 10 days for pain relief.

Cayenne pepper warming oil

Cayenne pepper contains capsaicin which has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce inflammation and ease the pain in sore joints. Many studies into the effects of ointments containing capsaicin to reduce inflammation have found that they can help reduce the painful symptoms of arthritis, muscles sprains, and joint pain.13

To find out how to make your own anti-inflammatory remedy for sore joints, please read my article on how to make cayenne warming oil for joint, muscle, and arthritis pain relief. This contains mustard seed to help increase blood flow to the painful collarbone area and ginger which also contains anti-inflammatory properties.14

Ginger

For some people who suffer from collarbone pain caused by arthritis, ginger can be a good natural remedy to reduce inflammation and pain in joints. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation recommends that arthritis sufferers use ginger for its anti-inflammatory properties.14

Studies have also shown that ginger contains compounds which are highly effective in reducing the painful symptoms that are associated with arthritis.15

To find out how to use ginger to reduce painful arthritic flare-ups, please read my article on how to make a delicious anti-inflammatory smoothie for arthritis and joint pain. This uses pineapple, turmeric, cherries, and virgin coconut oil. Or you can make this recipe for anti inflammatory and pain relief ginger turmeric tea.

Physical therapy

In most cases of collarbone injury and pain, doctors recommend physical therapy to ease the pain and increase movement in the shoulder and arm.

Orthopaedics from AAOS say that physical therapy usually starts when the collarbone begins to heal. The exercises are designed to prevent stiffness and weakness around the collarbone. In time, the exercises will focus on strengthening the muscles and ligaments around the collarbone.

Even after the collarbone injury has healed completely, physical therapy can help to prevent further injuries and pain in the collarbone.

How to Prevent Collarbone Pain

While the collarbone is healing, it’s important to take some steps to try and prevent the pain getting worse. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Avoid straining or putting pressure on your arm which could make the pain worse.
  • Lay on your back to help remove pressure and strain from your shoulders.
  • Keep a good posture when walking, standing, or sitting.
  • Plan your daily activities accordingly to give your collarbone enough time to heal.

Read my other related articles:
1. Shoulder Blade Pain – Possible Causes and Home Treatments
2. How to Treat Stiff Neck In One Minute (or Less)
3. Pain Under Ribs: The Most Common Causes and Treatments
4. Sternum Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Article Sources

  1. OrthoInfo.AAOS.org. Clavicle fracture.
  2. WebMD.com. What happens when a collarbone breaks?
  3. OrthoInfo.AAOS.org. Shoulder separation.
  4. WebMD.com. Dislocated shoulder & separated shoulder.
  5. OrthoInfo.AAOS.org. Thoracic outlet syndrome.
  6. OrthoInfo.AAOS.org. Rotator cuff tendinitis.
  7. WebMD.com. Shoulder osteoarthritis.
  8. OrthoInfo.AAOS.org. Shoulder pain and common shoulder problems.
  9. Bull NYU Hosp Jt Dis. 2008;66(2):94-101.
  10. WebMD.com. Dislocated shoulder.
  11. Arthritis.org. Using heat and cold for pain relief.
  12. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2013 Feb; 163(3-4): 58–64.
  13. Afr Health Sci. 2013 Jun; 13(2): 357–361.
  14. Int J Prev Med. 2013 Apr; 4(Suppl 1): S36–S42.
  15. Arthritis.org. Ginger
  16. Arthritis Rheum. 2001 Nov;44(11):2531-8.
  17. Bone Tumors of the Clavicle. June 2010, volume 33.
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2 Responses to Collarbone Pain (Clavicle Pain) – Causes and Treatments

  1. Elizabeth A. LaMarca says:

    Can collarbone or burstis affect use of fingers? That is weakness or dropping items

    • Jenny Hills says:

      From what I’ve seen in several references, such as webMD and Mayo Clinic, the most commonly affected joints by bursitis are the shoulder, hip, elbow, knee, and foot.

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