A clay shoveler’s fracture is a rare type of fracture that occurs in the back. Because it is a relatively stable fracture, most people will not need surgery to repair the break.

This fracture occurs in the spinous process, which is the bony protrusion on a vertebra (backbone). There is typically a break in one or more spinous processes, usually in the neck and shoulder area.

A clay shoveler’s fracture is a rare type of avulsion fracture. This occurs when a segment of bone attached to a tendon or ligament gets pulled away from the main part of the bone, separating the tip of the spinous process from the other vertebra.

In the past, this type of fracture was seen in people who lift heavy clay as part of their work. Now, it’s more likely to occur in people doing certain sports, especially if there is a lot of rotation in the upper spine.

Read on to learn about a clay shoveler’s fracture symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and more.

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A clay shoveler’s fracture is a rare avulsion fracture in the spinous process.

Several muscles are connected to the vertebrae for strength and flexibility. However, excessive twisting or stress on the muscles can cause traction to the area, resulting in the spinous process breaking off from the rest of the vertebra.

This fracture often affects the vertebrae around the neck and shoulders, but it can occur anywhere from the back of the neck to the upper midsection of the back.

In the past, it was a common injury in people who did a lot of heavy, repetitive lifting. This type of motion puts a lot of pressure on the muscles around the spine.

Depending on how the injury occurs, a person may feel a popping sensation in the neck or shoulder area at the time of the fracture. This can happen if sudden and intense muscle contraction is the underlying cause.

Sometimes, a person will feel pain between the shoulder blades and at the base of the neck. They may also have a reduced range of motion.

Anyone with neck pain or suspected neck injury should consult a healthcare professional.

A clay shoveler’s fracture may occur in people who do heavy lifting work. Movements involving intense muscle contractions in the neck and shoulder may contribute to this fracture.

Additionally, people doing certain sports are more likely to have a clay shoveler’s fracture. This has been seen in people who play racket sports, volleyball, or horse riding.

There are also reports of clay shoveler’s fractures in golfers. The twisting motion of a golf swing can put immense pressure on the shoulder, back, and neck muscles. A fracture is more likely in a beginner golfer still learning proper technique.

People with osteopenia or osteoporosis are at a greater risk of any fracture. People with these conditions have reduced bone mineral density, so their bones are more prone to fractures.

A healthcare professional will review a person’s symptoms and history to diagnose a clay shoveler’s fracture. If they suspect a clay shoveler’s fracture, they can confirm with imaging tests like X-ray or MRI.

This type of fracture is considered stable, so surgery is not usually needed. A person may need to wear a collar to stabilize the neck and support healing.

A doctor will advise rest and pain medications as needed. They may suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage pain. Some examples include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), aspirin, and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

Many people can return to usual activities in 4–6 weeks.

During the recovery time, people may need to avoid or modify activities. If the fracture was sports-related, it could be helpful for the person to work with a sports medicine professional. They can help ensure proper technique to avoid future injury.

Anyone who experiences a sudden onset of neck and shoulder pain should seek medical attention. It is also smart to contact a doctor if the pain continues even after a period of rest.

There are several causes for neck, back, and shoulder pain, so it is important to get the right diagnosis. If a person plays sports involving twisting the upper back, neck, and shoulders, they may have a clay shoveler’s fracture.

A clay shoveler’s fracture is a break in the bony protrusion on a vertebra called the spinous process. It is often caused by excess force from twisting muscles in the neck, back, and shoulders. This creates traction where muscle tendons attach to the vertebrae and, in rare cases, can cause a clay shoveler’s fracture.

Treatment includes rest, NSAIDs, and sometimes, a neck brace. Most people are back to usual activities within 4–6 weeks.