In this article, we describe all the common causes of collarbone pain and the most effective ways to treat it.
The collarbone (clavicle) is a thin, long, and slightly curved bone. The collarbone is also known as the beauty bone. The collarbone is present below the neck and is part of the front of your shoulder. This bone connects the upper part of the sternum with your scapula also known as the shoulder blade.
People often confuse collarbone pain with shoulder pain. Collarbone pain can be intense sometimes, and athletes are more prone to develop it. The collarbone plays a vital role in managing the upper body weight. Injury to the clavicle can affect the usage of arms and hands.
Several muscles that assist in the movement of your arm are attached to bony structures around the collarbone. It guards the structure that is present underneath. To know about what collarbone pain feels like and what are the causes and treatment of this, here are the guidelines for you.
Common causes of collarbone pain
Collarbone pain can occur from an injury that can either be trauma or arthritis. Certain sleeping positions can trigger collarbone pain. At the time of injury, if there is sudden and severe pain, it usually indicates a traumatic factor. Non-traumatic causes are usually painless unless you try to move your arm or shoulder.
The SC joint or sternoclavicular joint is present between the collarbone and breastbone. The SC joint injury with fractured collarbone is seen in athletes. Osteoarthritis of SC joint(1) is a type of arthritis that can lead to the wearing away of the cartilage that covers the sternoclavicular joint. It can cause stiffness, pain, and inflammation. Acromioclavicular joint osteoarthritis can also cause pain in the neck, collarbone, and shoulder.
Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint separation as a cause of collarbone pain
The scapula separates from the end of the collarbone when you fall on the outstretched hand. This is the most common cause of joint separation and collarbone pain in athletes.
If an injury occurs in that region, it will directly impact the shoulder. And the arm separates the collarbone from the scapula at the AC joint (acromioclavicular joint). Shoulder movement will be tough to perform because of tenderness and pain. A separated shoulder(2) occurs when the ligaments between the part of the shoulder blade and collarbone are torn.
Sleeping position as a cause of collarbone pain
If a person has a habit of sleeping on the same side, this will put a lot of strain and pressure on the collarbone and shoulder. Lying on one side can lead to tears in the rotator cuff and inflammation of the tendons(3). It can trigger pain and difficulty with movement.
Inappropriate sleeping posture can also pinch one of your nerves and it can cause tenderness, pain, and numbness around that impacted area.
Thoracic outlet syndrome
The thoracic outlet is a space between your top rib and your clavicle. This space consists of muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. If your shoulder joint muscles are weak, they will build pressure on blood vessels and nerves in the thoracic outlet causing pain and numbness. So, there is a possibility of collarbone pain without having a bone injury.
Causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include:
- Poor posture.
- Shoulder injury.
- Obesity puts pressure on all your joints.
- A congenital defect, such as being born with an extra rib.
- Repetitive stress, such as lifting something heavy many times or competitive swimming.
Common symptoms of collarbone pain
In the case of osteoarthritis, symptoms tend to develop slowly and progressively aggravate over time. It includes pain and stiffness in the affected joint. Osteomyelitis of the clavicle can occur as a complication of head and neck injury.
Symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome(4) depend upon which blood vessel or nerve is affected by the displaced collarbone.
Swelling in that region and pain with restricted shoulder movement because of weak shoulder muscles is a sign of collarbone pain.
Treatment Options for Collarbone Conditions
Collarbone pain is easy to treat by identifying the specific cause. While in some cases, treatment may be performed at home in advance before seeing your doctor or going to emergency care.
Some of the structures around the collarbone have a poor blood supply, which is why they can struggle to heal on their own. It is the oxygen and nutrients in our blood supply that helps to heal these structures.
Prolotherapy involves the injection of a regenerative solution into these structures to provide a direct supply of what is required to heal and repair.
As the treatment is helping to treat the root cause of the problem, it is deemed to be a permanent fix.
If you experience pain and inflammation, your doctor may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. But in severe cases, car accidents, or contact sports where you get a direct blow and dislocation occurs, then your health care provider may refer you for orthopaedic surgery. You may also need a vaccine against viral infections in case of severe injury.
Physiotherapy as an option for collarbone pain
A clavicle fracture is also known as a broken collarbone. Mostly collarbone fractures are treated without surgery. Physical therapy is done to reduce pain and swelling(5). It aims to increase range of motion and muscle strengthening.
Collarbone (clavicle) pain may occur with or without injury. For immediate relief, you can perform certain mobilization techniques, but in case of some serious issue, you should seek your doctor’s advice. To seek medical advice, there are several online courses and Government official websites such as orthoinfo where you can learn about orthopaedic issues like broken bones and sports injuries, etc.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can cause collarbone pain without injury?
Arthritis, bone infection, or any other condition related to the position of your clavicle can cause collarbone pain without injury.
Can you pull a muscle in your collarbone?
Collarbone pain is also commonly caused by muscular injury to your shoulder. Your shoulder contains several tendons and muscles that can be pulled or torn from overuse or trauma.
Is there a lymph node by your collarbone?
As you know lymph nodes are responsible for filtering the lymphatic fluid of unwanted debris and bacteria. The supraclavicular lymph nodes are found just above the clavicle or collarbone.
What does arthritis in the collarbone feel like?
If you have arthritis in the collarbone, you will feel pain at the top of the shoulder spreading to the side of the neck, or a clicking sound as you move your shoulder. Especially, weightlifters with collarbone arthritis experience a limited range of motion while doing shoulder exercise.
What is under your left collarbone?
A narrow space between your collarbone and your first rib is known as a thoracic outlet. Compression of nerves and blood vessels between your collarbone and first rib causes thoracic outlet syndrome. Abnormality in your neck muscles from birth, neck injury, or injury to the first rib are the symptoms of thoracic outlet syndrome. A chest x-ray or Ct-scan is performed to find the abnormalities of bone such as an extra rib.
- Lawrence, C. R., East, B., Rashid, A., & Tytherleigh-Strong, G. M. (2017b). The prevalence of osteoarthritis of the sternoclavicular joint on computed tomography. Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery, 26(1), e18–e22. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jse.2016.04.029
- Hintermann, B., & Gächter, A. (1995). Arthroscopic Findings After Shoulder Dislocation. The American Journal of Sports Medicine, 23(5), 545–551. https://doi.org/10.1177/036354659502300505
- Lee, W.-H., & Ko, M.-S. (2017). Effect of sleep posture on neck muscle activity. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 29(6), 1021–1024. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.29.1021
- Roos, D. B., & Owens, J. C. (1966). Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. Archives of Surgery, 93(1), 71–74. https://doi.org/10.1001/archsurg.1966.01330010073010
- Malmros, B., Mortensen, L., Jensen, M. B., & Charles, P. (1998). Positive effects of physiotherapy on chronic pain and performance in osteoporosis. Osteoporosis International : A Journal Established as Result of Cooperation between the European Foundation for Osteoporosis and the National Osteoporosis Foundation of the USA, 8(3), 215–221. https://doi.org/10.1007/s001980050057