Clavicular fractures are common and account for 2.6-10% of all fractures 2-3. They usually require minimal treatment, which relies on analgesia and a collar-and-cuff. However, in some cases open reduction and internal fixation is required.
Fractures can occur at any part of the clavicle. However, the vast majority (69-82%) occur in the midshaft, at or near the junction of the middle and outer third. This is due to two factors: firstly this is the thinnest part of the bone, and secondly, it is the only part of the bone not reinforced by attached musculature and ligaments 3.
Typically, fractured clavicles occur as the result of a direct blow to the shoulder. Fall onto the shoulder or onto an outstretched arm can cause this. They are common in very young and very old patients.
While it is not unusual for only a single AP film to be obtained, ideally, as with any trauma situation, two views are better than one. In most trauma situations, orthogonal views of the affected bone or joint are obtained. Since this is not possible with the clavicle, AP and axial views are obtained:
In most instances, the fracture is evident clinically and easily identified on radiographs. It is common for clavicle fractures to be displaced due to a combination of the weight of the upper limb pulling the distal fragment down and the sternocleidomastoid pulling the medial fragment upwards.
It is important to note that occult fractures may be present in the apparently normal radiograph; this is relatively common in children and also occasionally seen in adults 2.
Radiology reports should not only include whether or not a fracture is present but also comment on:
- location of the fracture along the shaft
- angulation and fracture end displacement (including direction)
- degree of overlap (measurement is useful)
- associated findings and relevant negatives
- associated traumatic injuries
Treatment and prognosis
In cases where the clavicle is thought to be fractured clinically, but where the radiograph is normal, it is advisable to treat patients as if a fracture is present; this is especially the case in children 2.
Traditionally midshaft fractures of the clavicle have been treated with immobilisation and a sling or figure-of-8 dressing, and in most cases results are said to be excellent with low non-union rates and minimal functional impairment 3. This has been challenged by some authors, who have found non-union rates of up to 15% and high rates of suboptimal outcome, e.g. ongoing local pain, brachial plexus irritation, cosmetic deformity 5.
In cases where there is significant displacement, angulation, shortening (>2 cm) or comminution, internal fixation either with plate-and-screw fixation or with a medullary device (e.g. intramedullary titanium elastic nail) have shown to result in better cosmetic outcome and higher rates of union. Internal fixation is thus probably advisable in such cases and in patients who are at risk of non-union (e.g. elderly) 3-5.
Additionally cosmetic concerns may be an indication for internal fixation to avoid unsightly deformity.
- 1. Dähnert WF. Radiology Review Manual. Philadelphia : Lippincott Williams Wilkins, c2007. (2007) ISBN:0781766206. Read it at Google Books - Find it at Amazon
- 2. Alao D, Guly HR. Missed clavicular fracture; inadequate radiograph or occult fracture? Emerg Med J. 2005;22 (3): 232-3. doi:10.1136/emj.2003.013425 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 3. Jeray KJ. Acute midshaft clavicular fracture. J Am Acad Orthop Surg. 2007;15 (4): 239-48. J Am Acad Orthop Surg (full text) - Pubmed citation
- 4. Assobhi JE. Reconstruction plate versus minimal invasive retrograde titanium elastic nail fixation for displaced midclavicular fractures. J Orthop Traumatol. 2011;12 (4): 185-92. doi:10.1007/s10195-011-0158-7 - Free text at pubmed - Pubmed citation
- 5. Hill JM, Mcguire MH, Crosby LA. Closed treatment of displaced middle-third fractures of the clavicle gives poor results. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1997;79 (4): 537-9. J Bone Joint Surg Br (link) - Pubmed citation