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Scapular Fracture


What is a scapular fracture?

A scapular fracture is a break in the scapula (shoulder blade). The scapula is a large, flat bone shaped like a triangle that is located on each side of your upper back. Other parts of the body, especially the clavicle, humerus, lungs, and chest, are also usually affected.

Shoulder Anatomy

What causes a scapular fracture?

A scapular fracture is usually caused by an injury or trauma. A scapular fracture may occur when you fall on your outstretched hand or land on your shoulder. A direct blow to the shoulder or upper back area may also cause a scapular fracture. This may happen during a fight, a car accident, or in any contact sport, such as football or hockey.

What are the signs and symptoms of a scapular fracture?

  • Pain, tenderness, swelling, bruising, or a bump in the injured area
  • Trouble moving your shoulder and arm
  • Bones poke through your skin, or your bones do not look normal
  • Weak, numb, and tingly shoulder and arm
  • The need to support your arm with your other hand to decrease pain

How is a scapular fracture diagnosed?

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your scapula. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your scapula and surrounding tissues and bones. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • X-rays: You may need x-rays of your scapula, clavicle, and humerus to check for broken bones or other problems. X-rays of your lungs and both your injured and uninjured scapula may also be taken.

How is a scapular fracture treated?

Treatment will depend on the damage and the kind of fracture you have. Most broken scapulas heal on their own.

  • Medicines: Medicines may be given to ease your pain. You may also need antibiotic medicine or a tetanus shot if there is a break in the skin.
  • Sling: Healthcare providers may put your arm in a sling to support your scapula while it heals.
  • Physical therapy: You may need physical therapy once your swelling and pain have improved. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery to place your bones back in their normal position if the fracture is severe. Pins, plates, and screws may be used to hold the bone together. Other problems, such as an injury to a nerve, blood vessel, or other organs may also be treated with surgery.

What are the risks of a scapular fracture?

You may bleed or get an infection if you have surgery. You may get a blood clot in your arm. The clot may travel to your heart or brain and cause life-threatening problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. If left untreated, the bones may not go back to the way they were before. You may have a weak grip or problems moving your arm.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your scapula for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed.
  • Rest: Rest when you feel it is needed. Slowly start to do more each day. Return to your daily activities as directed.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have more swelling than you did before your arm was put into the sling.
  • Your skin is itchy, swollen, or has a rash.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You cannot move your fingers.
  • Any part of your arm becomes blue, pale, cold, or numb.
  • Your pain is not relieved or gets worse, even after you take medicine.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough. You may cough up blood.
  • Your arm feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.