The collarbone, or clavicle, is a long, thin bone between the breastbone — sternum — and the shoulder. A collarbone dislocation occurs when the collarbone moves out of its usual position, often due to trauma or injury.

This injury is also called a sternoclavicular joint dislocation.

Symptoms include:

  • pain
  • swelling
  • bruising around the collarbone
  • difficulty moving the shoulder
  • obvious, visible deformity

Treatment usually involves manipulating the collarbone back into its usual position. Doctors use gentle traction and manipulation to reduce the collarbone back into place.

Depending on the severity of the collarbone dislocation, a person may need surgery to repair any associated ligament or tendon damage.

Read on to learn about collarbone dislocation symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.

A person speaking with a doctor.Share on Pinterest
SDI Productions/Getty Images

Doctors classify joint dislocations as anterior or posterior, meaning forward or backward. While both types can be painful, a person may have breathing and swallowing difficulties in posterior dislocations. If someone has these symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Other symptoms of collarbone dislocation can include:

  • swelling and bruising in the collarbone area
  • visible deformity, such as an obvious bump or slant at the collarbone where it is usually straight
  • difficulty moving the shoulder joint due to pain from collarbone displacement
  • tingling or numbness in the arm, hand, or fingers on the affected side

Most sternoclavicular joint dislocations are due to trauma, such as a fall or blow to the shoulder. Car accidents and sports injuries can cause collarbone dislocations.

When a person has a collarbone dislocation, they may experience other injuries. Doctors associate anterior dislocations with:

  • Pneumothorax: This is an air leak into the space between the lung and chest wall.
  • Hemothorax: This is a collection of blood in the space between the chest wall and the lung — the pleural cavity.
  • Rib fractures: A person may have cracks or break in one or more ribs.
  • Pulmonary contusion: This is bruising of a lung, causing bleeding and swelling.

Similarly, they associate posterior dislocations with:

  • pneumothorax
  • injury to the esophagus, which passes food and drink from the mouth to the stomach
  • injury to the trachea, which transports air to and from the lungs
  • cardiac arrhythmias

A doctor can diagnose a collarbone dislocation with a physical examination and medical history. They will ask the person when the pain began and if they have experienced an injury or accident.

They will then ask the individual to move their shoulder and collarbone in different directions. During this physical exam, the doctor will feel for instability or tenderness and assess the range of motion. They will also check the pulse to ensure that circulation is not impaired.

If the doctor is unsure of the diagnosis, they may order imaging tests such as a CT scan, MRI scan, or X-ray. These can confirm the collarbone dislocation and rule out other possible injuries.

Treatment for collarbone dislocation often comprises reduction, which involves manipulating the collarbone back into its usual position. A doctor will use traction and gentle movements to correct the dislocation.

A person may require surgery if the collarbone does not go back into place or there is damage to tendons or ligaments.

After treatment for collarbone dislocation, people usually wear a sling to keep the collarbone in place while it heals. They may also need physical therapy or occupational therapy sessions to help them regain their full range of motion and strength.

After a dislocation, a person may need 6 weeks or more to heal fully.

During recovery, people should follow the doctor’s instructions and avoid activities that require heavy lifting or vigorous movement. If a person returns to their typical activities before their collarbone fully heals, it can dislocate again.

If an individual experiences collarbone pain or discomfort, they should seek medical advice. They should also consult a doctor if they have experienced an injury or accident and suspect a dislocated collarbone.

People with collarbone dislocation symptoms that involve difficulty breathing or swallowing should seek immediate medical attention.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help avoid further injury or complications. If not treated promptly, dislocations can lead to serious complications, such as damage to nerves and blood vessels.

If a person experiences collarbone pain in the weeks after treatment, they should discuss it with a doctor. This may indicate that the collarbone is not healing properly.

Collarbone dislocation occurs when the collarbone moves from its usual position. It typically results from trauma, such as a fall or accident. Symptoms include pain and tenderness in the collarbone area, bruising, swelling, and visible deformity.

Diagnosis typically includes a physical examination and imaging tests. Treatment for collarbone dislocation often involves reduction, which means manipulating the collarbone back into its usual position.

People usually wear a sling after treatment. They may need physical therapy to help them regain full range of motion and strength in the collarbone area.