Collarbone Injuries in Contact Sports: Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

May 24, 2022 | By: Raleigh Orthopaedic Team

The Stanley Cup Playoffs continue as the Carolina Hurricanes gear up to take on the New York Rangers in tonight’s game at Madison Square Garden. While there is much excitement surrounding NHL season, it’s not surprising when fan favorite players are eliminated from the starting line-up due to injury. This is often the case for any contact sport, such as; football, rugby, soccer, wrestling, etc. Athletes can experience injury not only at a professional level, but at a semi-pro, collegiate, high school, and club sport level as well.

As orthopedists who specialize in sports medicine, we find one of the more common contact sport injuries is a fractured clavicle (also known as the collarbone). This is often due to athletes slamming into each other and objects with great force.

Common causes of clavicle injuries in sports

Fractures may occur anywhere along the collarbone between its attachment to the shoulder and the sternum. Injuries to the clavicle are commonly seen in contact sports, as athletes may receive a direct hit to:

  • An outstretched arm
  • Elbow
  • Outside part of the shoulder

With ice hockey, clavicle fractures are most often the result of a player being checked into the boards. Other common hockey injuries include knee and shoulder injuries – specifically medial collateral ligament (MCL) injuries for knee injuries; acromioclavicular (AC) joint and clavicle fractures for shoulder injuries.

Symptoms of a clavicle (collarbone) fracture:

  • Inability to lift the arm
  • Downward and forward sagging of the shoulder
  • A prominent bump over the collarbone
  • Swelling, bruising, and/or tenderness over the collarbone

The severity of the fracture will depend on the speed and contact force to the shoulder upon impact.

Physical examination

Prior to a careful examination of your shoulder, your doctor will need to know how the injury occurred and will inquire about your symptoms. An x-ray will confirm the location of the fracture and the severity of the break. Depending on the results of the x-ray, a computerized tomography (CT) scan may be taken for a more detailed view of the fracture site. During the examination your doctor may also perform additional tests to ensure no blood vessels or nerves were damaged at the time of the fracture.


Many collarbone fractures can heal without surgery. Conservative treatment for mild injuries include:

  • Sling immobilization – to protect the shoulder and minimize pain
  • RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, and elevation)
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Physical Therapy

In cases when the broken ends of the bone have significantly shifted out of place, surgery may be recommended in order to align the bone ends and maintain stability during the healing process.

Rehabilitation from clavicle fracture

Your doctor and physical therapist will work with you to develop a comprehensive rehabilitation plan and specific exercises designed to help restore movement and strengthen the shoulder. These exercises typically start off with gentle motions – the physical therapist will gradually introduce strengthening exercises as the fracture heals.

Most people are able to return to regular activities within 3 months of their injury. Once the fracture has completely healed, it is safe to return to sports activities.

See an Orthopedist

You don’t have to be a professional hockey player to receive professional care at Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic. Learn more about sports medicine treatment at Raleigh Orthopaedic.

Schedule an appointment at Raleigh Orthopaedic

Call us at (919) 863-6996 or schedule 24/7 online at to make an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our Raleigh Orthopaedic Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.


The material contained on this site is for informational purposes only and DOES NOT CONSTITUTE THE PROVIDING OF MEDICAL ADVICE, and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgment, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your health.