Damage to the collarbone can occur for many reasons, such as a fracture, a joint injury, or a person’s sleeping position. There can be more severe causes, such as cancer.

The collarbone, also known as the clavicle, extends from the shoulder to the breastbone.

Some causes of damage to the collarbone need urgent medical attention, while others tend to resolve on their own.

In this article, learn more about the cause of collarbone pain and their potential treatment options.

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Sleeping in certain positions can cause collarbone pain if a person has a tender or arthritic sternoclavicular joint or acromioclavicular (AC) joint.

Some may treat it with over-the-counter medications, and prevent it by changing positions during the night. New pillows or mattresses can also help with this type of pain.

A collarbone fracture accounts for approximately 5% of all adult fractures. The bone can break due to blunt force, such as a fall on an outstretched arm or shoulder.

Pain around the collarbone will start suddenly and often worsen as a person tries to move their shoulder. They may also feel a grinding sensation or hear a clicking noise when raising their arm.

Other symptoms of a broken or fractured collarbone include:

  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • bruising around the area
  • a bump over the break
  • an inability to lift the arm due to pain
  • the shoulder sagging forward and downward

A broken collarbone is diagnosed following an X-ray and an examination, in which a doctor checks for bruising or swelling.


Treatment will depend on the severity of the injury.

If the bone has remained in place, despite the break or fracture, a person will likely only need to wear a sling while the bone heals. In some cases, a doctor will recommend a brace instead.

More severe breaks may require surgery, in which a surgeon will insert pins, a rod, or a plate to keep the bone and fragments in place during healing.

TOS refers to a group of syndromes that involve the compression of the veins, arteries, and nerves that are located in the lower neck and upper chest.

The symptoms can vary depending on the type of TOS, but a person can experience pain just above the collarbone. Other symptoms can include:

  • weakness in the arm
  • a painful lump under the collarbone
  • pain and swelling or numbness in one arm
  • pain in the neck, collarbone, or shoulder
  • changes to the color of the hands or fingers

TOS can develop due to:

  • injury
  • tumors that press on the nerves
  • poor posture
  • pregnancy
  • repetitive movements affecting the arm and shoulder


Physical therapy is a common treatment. It will likely focus on strengthening the muscles around the collarbone. However, surgery may be required in more severe cases.

The AC joint is located where the collarbone meets the top of the shoulder blade.

Separation of the joint is commonly caused by blunt force or a fall.

Injuring the AC joint can lead to pain, but it does not always accompany a break of the collarbone.

Symptoms include:

  • swelling
  • tenderness
  • pain
  • a collarbone that is out of place
  • a bulge above the shoulder


Depending on the severity of the injury, a doctor may recommend:

  • resting the shoulder and applying ice
  • using a brace to stabilize the joint
  • surgery

Osteoarthritis happens when protective tissue at the end of a bone wears down. It is the most common type of arthritis.

This type of arthritis often develops due to normal wear and tear that accompanies aging. In some cases, it is brought on by injury.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis in the collarbone include:

  • pain in the area that gets worse very gradually
  • stiffness in the AC joint
  • pain in the AC joint


Treatments include:

Distal clavicular osteolysis is the term for small fractures developing on the end of the collarbone closest to the shoulder, known as the distal end. The condition is sometimes called weightlifter’s shoulder.

If a person does not allow these fractures to heal, they can worsen and lead to pain and swelling.

Symptoms of distal clavicular osteolysis include:

  • general aches and pain in the area
  • pain when moving the arm across the body
  • pain when lifting objects above the head


Treatment usually involves resting and avoiding activities that aggravate the symptoms. Other treatments may include:

Osteomyelitis is a type of bone infection.

The following symptoms may indicate osteomyelitis of the collarbone:

  • tenderness
  • swelling
  • nausea
  • fever
  • warmth around the site of infection
  • pus oozing from the skin

Below are common causes of osteomyelitis:

  • spread of an infection from another body part
  • infection that occurs after a fractured collarbone punctures the skin
  • infection that spreads from a wound near the collarbone


Usually, a person with osteomyelitis is hospitalized and receives intravenous antibiotics.

If possible, a doctor will remove any infected fluid collections and dead tissues, including bone.

After being released, the person may continue to take antibiotics orally for several weeks or months.

Cancer is not a common cause of collarbone pain.

If cancer is causing the pain, it may have spread from another part of the body. For example, lymph nodes that have developed cancer tend to cause pain in neighboring areas, such as the collarbone.

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that often develops in bones and lymph nodes. It can affect young children as well as adults.

Symptoms include:

When cancer spreads to the collarbone, surgery or radiation are common treatments. Recommended methods will depend on how advanced the cancer is when treatment starts.

Following an injury to the collarbone, a person should contact the emergency services. Upon examination, a doctor will make a diagnosis and recommend treatment.

A person should contact a doctor if shoulder pain is unexplained or accompanied by other symptoms.

There are many different causes of collarbone pain, including an injury, arthritis, or infection.

A recent injury requires a visit to a doctor. If there was no injury, other causes will require further evaluation.