Symptoms A-Z

Collarbone Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your collarbone pain symptoms, including 9 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. Symptoms
  2. Causes
  3. 9 Possible Collarbone Pain Conditions
  4. Treatments and Relief
  5. FAQs
  6. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  7. Statistics
  8. References

Collarbone Pain Symptoms

If asked what the most commonly broken bone in the body is, most people would probably guess a finger or toe bone. You may be surprised to learn it's actually the collarbone. [10] The collarbone, or clavicle, is the relatively straight bone running horizontally from the top of your sternum (breastbone) to your shoulder. It provides shoulder stabilization and protection for the delicate structures beneath. Many of the muscles that allow you to move your arm around your shoulder attach to bony structures around the collarbone, and there are nerves and blood vessels running deep to the bone as well. [6,10]

Pain in this region can be the result of injury to the collarbone itself (from a fall, for instance), or from injuries or irritation of the structures that surround it. [1] However, there are some conditions which may mimic shoulder pain that need to be investigated if the pain was not specifically the result of injury to the muscles or bones of the shoulder. [5,6]

Collarbone pain symptoms may be associated with these common symptoms:

Collarbone Pain Causes

The majority of collarbone pain occurs after a traumatic injury. The collarbone is especially vulnerable to breaking during a fall on an outstretched hand or on the shoulder because of the way in which these falls transmit force to the bone. Additionally, direct blows to this area can break the collarbone or dislocate the joint. [1,2]

Pain in the collarbone is also commonly caused by muscular injury to your shoulder. Your shoulder contains a number of muscles and tendons which can be strained or torn from overuse or trauma. It is often difficult for patients to pinpoint this pain other than " shoulder pain." [1]

Musculoskeletal and trauma:

  • Fracture: Fall or direct blows to the collarbone can break the bone. [2]
  • Dislocation: Falls or direct blows to the shoulder can dislocate the shoulder joints and is especially painful. [1]
  • Muscle strain: Overuse of the arm and shoulder muscles can cause painful tears and strains. [3]

Systemic disease:

  • Autoimmune: Many inflammatory diseases that result in the body attacking itself can attack joints and bones and cause collarbone pain. [4]
  • Wear and tear: A lifetime of use can cause pain from wear and tear of the protective cartilage in joints of the shoulder. [3]
  • Tumors: Cancers can cause pain in bones or directly compress nerves. [5]

Other causes:

  • Nerve pain: Compression of the nerve bundles beneath the collarbone can cause shooting pain. [6]
  • Heart disease: Heart disease can cause pain in the front of your chest or shoulder. [7]
  • Lung disease: Certain lung conditions can cause pain around your collarbone. [8]
  • Referred pain: Disorders of certain organs in your abdomen can paradoxically cause pain in the shoulder because they share the same nerves. [9]

9 Possible Collarbone Pain Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced collarbone pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder)

Frozen shoulder is also called adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder. The "shoulder capsule" is the strong web of connective tissue which holds the ball joint of the upper arm inside the socket of the shoulder blade. If this connective tissue is damaged, scar tissue – or adhesions – may form and cause the shoulder capsule to become tight, painful, and inflexible.

The condition can happen if an injury to the shoulder forces it to stay immobilized while healing. Additional risk factors may be diabetes, thyroid abnormalities, and heart disease.

Symptoms include gradual worsening of the ability to move the shoulder, due to increasing pain and stiffness in the outer shoulder and upper arm.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, with simple tests to measure how far the shoulder can move, as well as imaging such as x-ray or MRI.

Treatment involves physical therapy to help restore range of motion; over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease pain; and sometimes cortisone injections to the shoulder joint. Surgery may be needed in some cases.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: spontaneous shoulder pain, stiff shoulder, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder

Symptoms that always occur with frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder): stiff shoulder

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Shoulder strain

Shoulder strain means that the muscles and/or the tendons in the shoulder have been overstretched to the point of damage and sometimes partial tearing. (A "sprain" means that ligaments have been damaged.)

Because of its wide range of motion, the shoulder is a relatively unstable joint that is vulnerable to injury. A sudden overloading, especially after long periods of overuse, can finally cause some degree of tearing to the muscle fibers and/or the tendons.

Shoulder strains are most often sports injuries, or are caused by strenuous physical labor.

Symptoms include sudden sharp pain followed by swelling, bruising, and ongoing tenderness.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes ultrasound.

Treatment involves a short period of rest, followed by gradually increasing exercise to regain strength and prevent stiffness and weakness of the muscles and tendons. Physical therapy will be tailored to the individual and some skills, such as for sports, may need to be relearned. Improving posture while sitting, and adjusting techniques for work and sports, can help prevent recurrence of the strain.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder pain from an injury, sports injury

Symptoms that always occur with shoulder strain: pain in one shoulder

Symptoms that never occur with shoulder strain: arm weakness, arm numbness

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Rotator cuff tendonitis

The rotator cuff is an arrangement of muscles and tendons that holds the head of the upper arm bone within the shoulder socket. Rotator cuff tendinitis is the resulting condition when these muscles and tendons become inflamed or damaged.

The dominant symptom is a nagging, aching pain in the upper arm and shoulder that gets worse when raising the arms or reaching backward. You may also experience shoulder swelling and have difficulty lifting or rotating your arm.

Early treatments include resting the affected shoulder, applying ice, and taking over-the-counter pain medication. Stretching and cortisone injections may be recommended by your medical provider. In cases where tissue damage or bone spurs are present, surgery and follow-up exercises may be needed in order to have a full recovery.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night, difficulty moving the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse

Symptoms that always occur with rotator cuff tendonitis: pain in one shoulder

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Biceps tendonitis

Biceps tendonitis is a painful inflammation of the tendon connecting the biceps muscle to the bones of the shoulder. Biceps tendonitis is usually caused by overuse, especially repetitive throwing-type motions of the arm. It can also be caused by pre-existing shoulder injuries, sudden force or older age.

Symptoms include a throbbing, aching pain in the shoulder that may radiate down the arm. Any throwing, lifting, or pulling movement may produce pain in the shoulder.

The diagnosis is made through physical examination and ultrasound, and possibly with CT scan and/or MRI.

Treatment begins with rest, ice, over-the-counter pain relievers, and physical therapy. It may also include injections of local anesthetic and/or corticosteroids into the biceps tendon sheath. Surgery may be needed in some cases.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, dull, achy shoulder pain, shoulder pain that gets worse at night

Symptoms that always occur with biceps tendonitis: pain in the front of the shoulder

Urgency: Primary care doctor

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Acromioclavicular (ac) shoulder joint injury

The shoulder is made up of three bones - the shoulder blade (scapula), collar bone (clavicle), and arm bone (humerus). The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is a joint that is in the front of the shoulder, where the collar bone and shoulder blade meet. This joint is stabilized by ligaments, which can tear if the two bones are separated from one another. This is most commonly caused by falling on the shoulder.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, difficulty moving the shoulder

Symptoms that always occur with acromioclavicular (ac) shoulder joint injury: shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, constant shoulder pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder")

Repetitive strain injury of the shoulder is caused by consistent repetitive use.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder weakness, shoulder numbness

Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder"): shoulder pain from overuse

Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the shoulder ("swimmer's shoulder"): severe shoulder pain, shoulder injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

Myofascial pain syndrome

Myofascial pain syndrome is also called chronic myofascial pain (CMP.) Pressure on certain points of the muscles causes referred pain, meaning the pain is felt elsewhere in the body.

The cause is believed to be muscle injury through overuse, either from sports or from a job requiring repetitive motion. Tension, stress, and poor posture can also cause habitual tightening of the muscles, a form of overuse.

This overuse causes scar tissue, or adhesions, to form in the muscles. These points are known as trigger points, since they trigger pain at any stimulus.

Symptoms include deep, aching muscular pain that does not go away with rest or massage, but may actually worsen. There is often difficulty sleeping due to pain.

Myofascial pain syndrome should be seen by a medical provider, since it can develop into a similar but more severe condition called fibromyalgia.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and applying mild pressure to locate the trigger points.

Treatment involves physical therapy, pain medications, and trigger point injections. In some cases, acupuncture and antidepressants are helpful.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain in the back of the neck, tender muscle knot, general numbness

Symptoms that always occur with myofascial pain syndrome: tender muscle knot

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Recurrent shoulder dislocation

Recurrent subluxation of the shoulder is a condition that results in a persistent partial dislocation of the shoulder joint.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: shoulder pain from overuse, pain in the front of the shoulder, shoulder dislocation

Symptoms that always occur with recurrent shoulder dislocation: shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder dislocation

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Acute costochondritis (chest wall syndrome)

Acute costochondritis is the inflammation of the flexible cartilage that connects each rib to the breastbone. Costochondritis is caused by excessive coughing or by straining the upper body, as with weightlifting. It is a common occurrence seen in children, teenagers, and adults.

Symptoms include a sudden, sharp, aching pain anywhere in the chest wall, especially near the breastbone where it connects to the ribs. The pain gets worse with deep breathing or with almost any movement.

Treatment involves rest along with over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Injections of corticosteroid medication to ease pain and inflammation are occasionally used.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: rib pain, chest pain that is worse when breathing, chest pain, rib pain when moving, pain when pressing on the chest

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Collarbone Pain Treatments and Relief

Collarbone pain most commonly occurs after direct injury to the shoulder, where the pain immediately follows the injury. In many of these scenarios, you should see a medical professional to rule out a fracture, especially if you are having trouble moving your arm. [2] Additionally, you should consider going to a hospital if you experience sudden-onset severe shoulder pain without any clear triggering event. [6]

For instances where your pain did not come on suddenly, is tolerable, and your arm is working well, you can manage shoulder pain at home. [3]

Professional treatments:

  • Imaging: X-rays will be performed to ensure there are no broken bones. [3]
  • Range of motion testing: A doctor may test moving your arm to assess the function of individual muscles in the shoulder. [3]
  • EKG: A doctor may perform an EKG (electrocardiogram) to ensure your heart is not the cause of your shoulder pain. [7]
  • Prescription medication: Pain medication may be used to control your pain symptoms. [3]
  • Immobilization: In many cases of a broken collarbone, a sling is used to heal the bone without surgery. [2]
  • Surgery: In more complicated fractures, surgery may be required to fix a broken bone. [3]

At-home treatments:

  • Rest: Rest can help muscle soreness associated with overuse or minor trauma. [3]
  • Pain medication: Acetaminophen and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen can help reduce the collarbone pain and discomfort. [11]
  • Ice or heat: A heat pack, ice-pack or cool washcloth can help with the discomfort associated with minor trauma or overuse injury. [12]
  • Stretching: If your pain is muscular and not the result of direct trauma to the shoulder, arm stretches can help slowly relieve collarbone pain. [11]

You should seek help without delay if you have:

  • Chest pain [9]
  • Difficulty breathing [10]
  • Loss of consciousness or feeling faint [13]
  • A cold or pulseless arm [1]
  • Inability to move your arm [1]
  • Serious traumatic injury [13]

FAQs About Collarbone Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about collarbone pain.

What can cause shoulder pain without injury?

Pain in the shoulder is often a sign of injury. Shoulder pain can be due to overexertion of the shoulder through activity or exercise, a pulled nerve along the neck or spine usually in concert with activity, or even a rash affecting the skin like a sunburn. It is also possible to experience shoulder pain because of injury to the abdomen and referred pain to one or both shoulders. [6,9,11,14]

How long does it take for a broken collar bone to stop hurting?

This depends on the location of the break. The first second and third portion of the clavicle (collar bone) take different lengths of time to heal and are repaired differently. If the middle of the clavicle is broken it can take up to 12 weeks to heal and achieve union, the far third of the clavicle may take up to 6 weeks to heal, and the near third of the clavicle may take as many as 8 weeks to heal. Your physician should explain to you projected healing times after the shoulder is set. [10]

Can you dislocate your collarbone?

The collarbone, or clavicle, attaches the acromion (a portion of the shoulder blade) to the sternum or chest bone. It is most commonly dislocated at its connection to the shoulder - the acromioclavicular joint. Injuries can range from mild sprains and dislocations to dislocations and fractures. [1]

Can you move your arm with a broken collarbone?

Yes, it is possible to move your arm with a broken collarbone. However, it will be very painful and is ill-advised. Moving may cause the sharp portions of the collarbone to protrude through the skin, necessitating urgent surgery. Accordingly, most hold their arms very still to avoid additional pain using the unaffected arm. Often a fall onto the shoulder, a traffic accident, or a direct blow to the clavicle can fracture it. [2]

Why does my collarbone hurt when I sleep?

If you have strained the joints attached to your collarbone often through overhead or forward weighted motions, it is possible to exacerbate the strain placed on the joint by sleeping on the shoulder when sleeping on the side and further compressing the shoulder joint. If you have a connective tissue disorder, you may also be able to damage your collarbones. Sleeping with collarbone or shoulder injuries can be painful because of the body's positioning while sleeping. Some patients find it easier with these injuries to sleep in a recliner chair. [15]

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Collarbone Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

  • How would you explain the cause of your shoulder pain?
  • Can you fully move your shoulders around?
  • Where exactly is your shoulder pain?
  • Do you require a wheelchair to move around?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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Collarbone Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced collarbone pain have also experienced:

  • 21% Pain In One Shoulder
  • 4% Pain In The Back Of The Neck
  • 4% Shoulder Pain

People who have experienced collarbone pain were most often matched with:

  • 37% Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis Of The Shoulder)
  • 37% Rotator Cuff Tendonitis
  • 25% Shoulder Strain

People who have experienced collarbone pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 36% Over a month
  • 23% Less than a week
  • 19% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Collarbone Pain Symptom Checker

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References

  1. Shoulder Trauma (Fractures and Dislocations). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Published September 2007. OrthoInfo Link.
  2. Collar Bone Injuries. Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic Link.
  3. Athwal GS, Widmer B. Shoulder Pain and Common Shoulder Problems. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Published March 2018. OrthoInfo Link.
  4. Bleckwenn M, Sommer B, Weckbecker K. Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis Manifested as Painful Clavicular Swelling: A Case Report. BMC Research Notes. 2014;7:786. NCBI Link.
  5. Signs and Symptoms of a Cancer of Unknown Primary. American Cancer Society. Updated March 9, 2018. American Cancer Society Link.
  6. Athwal GS, Glaser DL, Widmer B. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated March 2018. OrthoInfo Link.
  7. Possible Link Between Shoulder Problems and Heart Disease Risk. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published February 2017. Harvard Health Publishing Link.
  8. Ronan L, D'Souza S. Pancoast's Tumour Presenting as Shoulder Pain in an Orthopaedic Clinic. BMJ Case Reports. 2013;2013:bcr2012008131. NCBI Link.
  9. Blahd WH, Husney A, Romito K, Messenger D, eds. Referred Shoulder Pain. C.S. Mott Children's Hospital. Published November 29, 2017. Mott Children's Hospital Link.
  10. Clavicle (Collarbone) Fractures: What You Need to Know. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Johns Hopkins Medicine Link.
  11. Shoulder Cartilage and Tendon Injuries. My Doctor Online. My Doctor Online Link.
  12. Shoulder Pain. NHS. Updated April 7, 2017. NHS Link.
  13. When to Go to the ER. UnitedRegional Physician Group. UR Physician Group Link.
  14. Rashes. U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. Updated March 6, 2018. MedlinePlus Link.
  15. Ricchetti E. Shoulder Pain Answers. Cleveland Clinic. Published March 5, 2014. Cleveland Clinic Link.