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How do I Treat a Broken Scapula?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The scapulae, or shoulder blades, are fairly sturdy and well-protected bones in the upper chest. A major impact, such as from a high-speed automobile accident, is usually needed to cause a fracture. Treating a broken scapula depends on many factors, including the location and severity of the break and the extent of related injuries. In many cases, a minor fracture can heal with a few weeks of rest, immobilization, ice, and prescription or over-the-counter painkillers. A more serious break may require surgery to realign the shoulder blade and reinforce it with metal plates or screws.

A broken scapula is immediately noticeable in most cases. A person experiences sudden, sharp pain, tenderness, swelling, and a loss of range of motion in the shoulder. While waiting for an ambulance or taking a person to the emergency room, steps should be taken to keep the affected shoulder immobilized. A makeshift sling can be formed with a shirt or towel to prevent excess movement of the joint until professional care is available.

At the hospital, a doctor will usually take x-rays and other imaging scans to determine the exact location of the break. In most cases, the largest, widest part of the scapula, called the body, is fractured but does not move out of place. Treatment for a broken scapula body typically consists of affixing a comfortable sling to the arm and prescribing high-strength painkillers. The patient is instructed to avoid moving his or her arm for at least one week following the injury and to apply an ice pack several times a day to relieve swelling. A minor fracture begins to heal quickly, so most doctors suggest engaging in light exercises after the one-week mark to regain mobility and prevent strength loss.

If the scapula is broken along its neck, the skinny upper region, it is likely that part of the bone will move out of place. In such cases, an orthopedic specialist will try to manually force the broken scapula neck back into alignment. Additional x-rays are taken to confirm that the bone is aligned correctly. A longer immobilization period, usually at least four weeks, is needed before engaging in physical therapy exercises in such cases.

A severely broken scapula is unlikely to heal on its own. Surgery is considered whenever pieces of bone are shattered or the scapula is so out of alignment that it is impossible to put it back into place otherwise. A surgeon can saw away damaged bone, graft new bone tissue onto the scapula if necessary, and shape it back into its proper form. Metal plates, pins, and screws may be necessary if there is not enough healthy bone tissue to allow the scapula to retain its shape and position. Many patients who undergo surgery require at least six months of rest before they can begin physical therapy.

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Discussion Comments
By anon999723 — On Mar 02, 2018

Woke up in agony in my chest, shoulder and arm. I saw my GP, who did not examine me. Just told me to wait and take paracetamol. The next day, I went to the local hospital who confirmed dame to scapula. Now they have to write to my GP for his permission to X-ray me. No wonder NHS is in trouble. The nurse was lovely.

By Ocelot60 — On Sep 24, 2014

@rundocuri- Your friend may have a broken scapula, but his pain may indicate a tear in his rotator cuff. This is not something he should take lightly, because the longer he goes without a diagnosis, the worse the tear could become.

Your friend should get an examination of his shoulder and ask his doctor to order x-rays first. Then if they do not show any broken bones in his shoulder, he should ask for an MRI which will determine if he has any soft tissue injuries.

By Talentryto — On Sep 23, 2014

@rundocuri- A scapula break is usually pretty painful, so it is doubtful that someone could mistake this type of injury for a mild one. However, I think your friend should have x-rays done on his shoulder, just to be on the safe side.

Once your friend gets a diagnosis, he may find that he just has a muscle tear and not a broken shoulder. This can be treated with rest, ice compresses, and physical therapy. He definitely needs to avoid football games until he gets to the bottom of what is causing his shoulder pain issues.

By Rundocuri — On Sep 23, 2014

Is it possible to have a broken scapula and not know it? I have a friend who was injured in a football game several months ago, and he has had shoulder pain ever since. He says it's not bad enough to go to the doctor yet, but after reading this article I think he should have it checked out as soon as possible.

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