Broken Collarbone Recovery: What to Expect

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Upper body brace

A broken collarbone is a common injury. Your doctor might call it a fractured clavicle. Recovery from this broken bone can take up to 12 weeks. During recovery, you might need to wear a sling or a brace. You may also need physical therapy to learn strengthening and mobility exercises. Your recovery will be slightly different if surgery is part of your treatment.

Having a good recovery period is important. It can keep you from having a weak or stiff shoulder. It also can help you get back to full activity more quickly. Here is what you can expect.

Recovery When You Don't Need Surgery

Your collarbone connects your arm to your body. It extends from top of your breastbone, or sternum, to your shoulder blade. Usually, the collarbone breaks in the middle and the ends do not separate too far apart. You don't normally need surgery for this type of break. Instead, you will need to wear a sling for about six weeks. The sling helps reduce pain and swelling. It keeps the ends of the broken bone in the right position for your bone to heal correctly.

You will have some pain during recovery. In most cases, an over-the-counter pain reliever can control the pain. An ice pack may also help reduce pain and swelling.

You will start physical therapy during the first three weeks, while you are still using the sling. The first exercises may involve moving your wrist and elbow. As your physical therapy progresses and you have less pain and stiffness, you will start to do strengthening exercises, too.

The length of recovery varies from person to person. After about three weeks, your doctor may take an X-ray to see how your break is healing. If the X-ray looks good, you may start gentle range-of-motion exercises for your shoulder. After about six weeks, you may have another X-ray. If you're healing well, you may be able to stop using the sling. Then, your exercises will include more active range of motion.

Your doctor will let you return to normal activities gradually. Timing will depend on your progress. Most people can return to full activity in about 12 weeks.

Recovery After Surgery

You may need surgery if your collarbone breaks in several pieces or if the pieces move too far out of place. The surgeon may use plates or screws to bring the bone ends or pieces together so they heal properly.

Recovery after surgery usually takes longer and involves more pain. There is a higher risk for complications, too. You will still need physical therapy.

After surgery, you will need to wear a sling or a brace for 6 to 8 weeks. Also, you probably will need to take a strong pain medication called an opioid. Carefully follow your doctor's instructions for taking this medicine. After a few days, your doctor may switch you to an over-the-counter pain reliever. You also can use an ice pack to reduce pain and swelling. You may start range-of-motion exercise for your elbow and wrist during the first week after surgery.

How long recovery takes varies from person to person. When an X-ray shows it is safe, you can remove your brace or sling while you do gentle range-of-motion exercise for your shoulder. This often occurs after about four weeks. Then, when a follow-up X-ray shows even more healing, you may be able to get out of your brace or sling for good and start full range-of-motion exercises. After about 6 to 8 weeks, you may add strengthening exercises. Full recovery may take 3 to 4 months.

Complications after surgery can include bleeding, blood vessel damage, nerve damage, infection, lung injury, and blood clots. Most of these problems occur soon after surgery. Let your doctor know if you experience any of the following:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 21
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  1. Clavicle Fracture (Broken Collarbone). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
  2. Physical Therapist’s Guide to Clavicle Fracture. American Physical Therapy Association.