Shoulder blade fractures are a highly uncommon injury. While they are usually very painful, they are also often easily treated. However, they usually accompany other injuries which may require more extensive attention.
Why Are Shoulder Blade Fractures Rare?
Shoulder blade fractures represent only 1% of all cases of broken bones. The reason for this is that the shoulder blade, or scapula, is protected by a number of other bones and muscles in the chest and back area. This means that the blunt force trauma necessary to cause a scapula bone fracture often must be rather severe.
Common Causes of Scapula Fractures
The most common cause of shoulder blade fractures are motor vehicle accidents. Car accidents represent the overwhelming majority of these types of injuries.
Other causes include blunt force trauma to the back in the shoulder area, typically from a fall or being struck violently. Participating in sports or athletic activities such as bicycling or rock climbing can produce a scapula fracture from a fall.
Men tend to suffer from shoulder blade fractures more often than women do, and among men, it tends to occur more commonly among those who are younger. This is because younger men are more reckless and tend more towards risky behavior that may be dangerous. They are also often more likely to play the contact sports that can cause a scapula fracture.
Because the scapula bone is relatively protected, significant force is usually required to damage it. This means that patients with scapula fracture injuries often have traumatic injuries in other parts of the body, including fractures in other shoulder bones. Shoulder blade fractures are therefore likely to be part of a series of injuries suffered by a patient, and doctors who suspect a scapula fracture will likely examine the body for other injuries.
Signs of a Scapula Fracture
Scapula fractures tend to have a number of common signs and symptoms. If you experience the following issues after an injury, you are likely suffering from a broken scapula.
- Pain in the shoulder. The pain will likely hurt worse with arm movement and deep breaths.
- Bruising or swelling in the shoulder.
- A grinding feeling with shoulder movement.
- Inability to lift the arm.
- Persistently holding the arm to keep it still.
- Tingling in the arm.
- The shoulder area looks unusual or contorted.
Because scapula fractures are typically accompanied by other traumatic injuries, it is likely that both patients and medical professionals will initially overlook a broken scapula as other injuries are probably more severe or potentially life threatening.
Once a patient is made stable and more pressing medical concerns are overcome, medical professionals can likely evaluate the entire situation with the patient and determine the best course of action for the broken shoulder blade as well as for any other injuries.
Treatment of Shoulder Blade Fractures
A physician will evaluate the scapula injury as well as any other injuries to the body. In the case of multiple severe injuries, multiple different medical professionals may be called in to help treat a patient. Physicians may use X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans in order to gain a better understanding what exactly is wrong.
For the scapula specifically, however, a few basic treatments can help. Pain medication, whether over the counter or prescribed, can help ease a patient’s suffering. Applying ice to the painful or swollen area can also provide relief.
Most scapula fracture injuries do not require surgery. Instead, a doctor is likely to simply place the affected arm in a sling in order to immobilize it.
Approximately one week after the injury, the patient will likely be required to participate in occasional physical therapy exercises to move the shoulder around. The purpose of this is to preserve the range of motion in the shoulder, which may otherwise become compromised.
Some shoulder blade fractures may still require surgery. Fractures running through the shoulder socket joint or the neck of the scapula are the ones most likely to demand the attention of an orthopedic surgeon.
Prognosis of Scapula Fractures
Most scapula fractures recover easily and within 6-8 weeks. While a patient’s other injuries may continue to cause problems, scapula fractures, at least, are relatively easy to heal with proper medical attention.
Some complications may arise for those with fractures in the shoulder joint or the scapula’s neck, such as arthritis, loss of strength or range of motion, or chronic pain. Those who do not perform physical therapy during the recovery process may also develop a condition called frozen shoulder. Frozen shoulder is a painful condition that makes the shoulder joint stiff, making movement difficult.
Scapula Fractures Are Rare and Usually Easily Recoverable
Few people will ever have to know what a shoulder blade fracture feels like. However, they are often accompanied by more serious injuries that can put a patient’s health at serious risk. People can protect themselves from these sorts of injuries by wearing seat belts in cars as well as observing safety rules in sports and other recreational activities.