What You May Not Know About a Broken Scapula

If you have ever suffered through a broken scapula, you know just how painful this particular injury can be! For those of you who have yet to have the pleasure—ha ha—it could be handy to know the symptoms of a broken scapula and what steps should be taken to treat the injury. We are going to cover all of this and more so stick around!

Let’s start off by talking a little about the physiology of the scapula. The scapula, also known as the shoulder blade, is a flat, triangular-shaped bone that rests on the upper portion of each side of the back. In the back, the scapula is connected to the humerus (aka: upper arm) and in the front it connects to the clavicle (aka: collar bone). The main function of the scapula is to attach the humerus to the rest of the body and to aid its movement.

A broken scapula probably sounds like a pretty uncommon injury—and it is. The shoulder blade is surrounded by many strong muscles in the back; therefore it would take a heavy blow or a great deal of trauma to physically break it. This type of fracture is most often caused by attempting to stop a fall. For instance, say you’re running and you trip over something (if you’re like me, it’s probably your own feet!) and dive forward. In an attempt to stop the fall, you stick your arms out to cushion your all. If the impact is hard enough, it can be sent all the way up the arm and to the scapula, which then fractures under pressure. Car or sports accidents are other common causes behind this type of injury.

The symptoms of a scapular fracture are many, but the main symptom (as I’m sure you have guessed) is pain in the region of the scapula that worsens with movement. The area will usually swell up and may discolor due to bruising. In some cases, a visible deformity of the bone may be visible under the skin where the bone has snapped, or it may even break the skin altogether. As the scapula is responsible for keeping the arm attached to the body, the arm itself may be very difficult to move without severe pain. It may also tingle or become numb and will most certainly be weakened. Many people report hearing an audible crack as the bone snaps, which is also a telltale sign that the bone has fractured.

Directly after the injury occurs a doctor should be phoned for an immediate appointment. There are steps that should be taken to immobilize the arm for the journey to the doctor. The arm should be held against the body (using the good arm). In an attempt to ease the swelling and the pain, an ice pack may be applied to the area for about 20 minutes. A friend or family member should do this so the patient isn’t straining to hold the ice pack in place. That same person should also place a warm blanket around the patient and pay close attention to their pallor, as shock is often a symptom associate with any kind of broken bone.

The doctor will take an x-ray to determine the type and severity of the break. This will help him/her decide whether or not surgery will be necessary. In most cases, a specialist will be able to reposition the bones into place so they can heal properly. The patient will then be advised to wear their arm in a sling for a few weeks. If there is considerable damage to the surrounding ligaments or tendons or if the bones are unable to be “set” externally, a surgical procedure may be required to correct the injury.

So if you find yourself suffering quite a bit of pain around the shoulder blade after an accident, it’s probably best to see your doctor as soon as possible—you may have a broken scapula!


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