The feeling of a burst collarbone is fairly common. You may feel it when you reach certain directions or move your arms and shoulders. You may hear a “pop” or “click”.
Often, a popped collarbone is a sign of a problem with the bones or joints that make up the shoulder. It may or may not be painful.
This article looks at the causes of a popped collarbone, when to see a healthcare provider, how to diagnose and treat it, and what to do about it.
Knowing some basic shoulder anatomy can help you understand why the bone pops out. The so-called “shoulder complex” consists of three bones and several joints. Bones are:
- clavicle (clavicular)
- Scapula (scapula)
- humerus (upper arm bone)
These bones interact in complex ways. This allows you to move your arm freely, such as when reaching for something. A problem with any of them can cause the collarbone to pop out.
The joints of the shoulder complex include:
- The sternoclavicular (SC) joint: This joint connects your collarbone to your sternum (sternum).
- Acromioclavicular joint (AC): This joint connects the part of your collarbone to your shoulder blade.
- The glenohumeral (GH) joint: This is the real shoulder joint and is responsible for most movements. It is a ball and socket joint that includes the humerus and part of the scapula.
- Scapulothoracic joint: Various muscles connect the scapula to the thoracic spine. It’s not really a joint, but some movement is involved.
These four joints connect your shoulder bones to your torso and allow arm and shoulder movement.
When you lift your arm, the muscles around your shoulder contract and pull the bone in a specific direction. This makes the joint slide and slide. Clavicle bursting can occur during these movements.
A burst usually occurs at your SC or AC joint. Reasons may include:
- SC joint separation (dislocation)
- AC Connector Separation
- Osteoarthritis of any joint
SC joint separation may cause one clavicle to push forward. You may notice that it sticks out a little from your sternum. This can cause abnormal movement that can cause popping and pain when you move your arm.
Sometimes trauma can destabilize the joint and cause the collarbone to pop out. Other times, instability is caused by wear and tear or degeneration from conditions such as arthritis.
If your joints are hypermobilized or your ligaments are lax, your collarbone may pop out for no particular reason. This is more common in young adults and biological women.
Tell your healthcare provider if your collarbone or shoulder pops out when you move your arm, especially if it hurts. They can help figure out why this is happening.
Swimmer’s Shoulder: Diagnosis and Management
Several bones and joints make up the shoulder complex. Problems with any of them can cause the collarbone to pop out. The same goes for joints that are traumatized, lax ligaments, or hypermobilized.
When to see a healthcare provider
If your burst collarbone was caused by trauma, talk to your healthcare provider. They can check for fractures or acute dislocations.
If you are unable to move your shoulder normally, it is important to seek immediate medical attention.
SC joints may be the site of infection. Both AC and SC joints may be associated with inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Infection and inflammation can lead to joint instability. This can lead to:
- severe pain
Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of these symptoms.
A physical examination is the first step in finding out why your collarbone is popping out. It may involve:
- Palpation: Feel for any abnormalities in your bones, joints, and muscles to see if they can make it pop.
- Range of motion (ROM) measurement: Reduced ROM can reveal if the joint capsule or muscle is tight and stiff.
- Strength measurement: Manual muscle testing can show whether weak shoulder muscles are involved.
- Special Shoulder Tests: Special tests like SC joint and AC joint compression can reveal if you have a muscle or ligament tear.
Your healthcare provider may also order imaging tests. These include:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
Many times, this process reveals the reason why the collarbone pops out. This provides direction for treatment.
Seek medical attention for popping sounds caused by trauma, infection, or inflammation. Get emergency help if you can’t move your shoulder or have symptoms such as fever or severe pain. Providers diagnose shoulder problems with a physical exam, joint testing, and possible imaging.
Treatment for a burst collarbone depends on the cause of the problem. For example, if the muscle or tissue is too tight, treatment may focus on stretching.
Weak shoulder muscles can also lead to a burst. If this is the case, strengthening these muscles may be the best treatment. It’s a good idea to work closely with a physical therapist. They can make sure you do the right thing for your situation.
Shoulder stretches may include:
- Shoulder cane bent
- Shoulder wand rotation
- back towel stretch
- Sleeper stretch for shoulder pronation
These stretches gently move your SC, GH, and AC joints, gently pulling on the tight tissue around them. This restores normal sliding and sliding of the joint and relieves a burst collarbone.
Strengthening shoulder exercises may include:
- Strengthen the rotator cuff with weights or resistance bands
- Scapula stabilization
The overall exercise goal for popping the collarbone is to restore normal ROM and strength, and to restore normal and proper movement around the shoulder joint.
If the trauma caused your collarbone to pop out, you may benefit from immobilization to protect your shoulder joint. Your provider may recommend wearing a sling for several weeks. However, it should be for short-term use.
Wearing a sling for too long can lead to a condition called frozen shoulder. This condition involves severe and painful loss of shoulder ROM. You can avoid it by doing gentle pendulum exercises on a regular basis.
Exercise Shoulder Rehabilitation
You may need surgery for traumatic dislocations, especially the SC and GH joints. Surgery is also performed on ligament tears in the AC or SC joints.
Surgery for a painless collarbone burst is rare. Typically, it is only used in trauma and pain cases where the SC or AC joint has been ejected.
Surgery may involve using a small wire to properly connect your SC or AC joints. During surgery, your healthcare provider may “clean” the joint, removing bone spurs and small pieces of cartilage.
After surgery, you may wear the sling for several weeks while it heals. You may benefit from rehab classes to restore ROM, strength, and normal arm function.
Treatment for a burst collarbone depends on the cause. It may involve physical therapy, the use of a sling, or (for painful bursts) surgery and rehabilitation. The goal is to restore strength, function, and range of motion.
Keep in mind that some events of clavicle popping are short-lived. Others may be permanent. If your burst collarbone is causing pain and limited function in your arm, consult your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment.
Sometimes the sternoclavicular joint or clavicle pops out not painful or limiting function, but just an annoyance. In these cases, you may have to learn a new way of doing things to avoid popping. Or maybe you’re just used to it.
As long as you can work completely pain-free, you should be able to use your arm normally. A little noise from a joint doesn’t always indicate a problem.
Your shoulder is made up of several bones and joints. A popped collarbone can be caused by any of these issues. Injuries, lax ligaments, or joint hypermobility are also possible causes.
Seek medical attention for a burst due to trauma, infection, or inflammation, or if you are unable to move your shoulder. Shoulder problems can be diagnosed with a physical examination and possible imaging.
Treatment depends on the cause. Typical treatments include physical therapy, short-term immobilization, or surgery.
If it hurts, get treatment. If not, you probably have nothing to worry about.
The new pop will worry you, especially if it’s painful. Most causes of collarbone pain can be treated. However, if you don’t have any worrisome symptoms, you probably don’t need to do anything about it.
Be sure to get it checked out if you have popping plus pain or other related symptoms. You’d better start treatment as soon as possible.
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