A scapula fracture is a break in the shoulder blade bone at the back of the shoulder. This is a relatively uncommon injury, making up only 1% of all fractures.
Symptoms of a scapula fracture
Broken shoulder blade symptoms consist of sudden pain at the back of the shoulder at the time of impact along with rapid swelling. Pain will be felt when attempting to move the shoulder or upper back and the patient will struggle to raise their arms above head height. Tenderness will be felt specifically over the shoulder blade itself.
Causes of a scapular fracture
Scapula fracture or broken shoulder blade is caused by either a direct impact to the scapula from a blunt object, or from a fall onto the arm or shoulder. Car crashes are amongst the most common causes of the injury.
If a fracture is suspected, seek medical attention. An X-ray can be used to confirm and determine the extent of injury or displacement. A doctor will also perform an examination, checking for signs of neural or vascular injury such as numbness, tingling, weakness or a reduced pulse in the arm. In most cases a scapula fracture is treated conservatively - without surgery - as displacement of the bones is rare due to the muscles holding the two (or more) parts close together.
The arm may be immobilized in a sling to reduce the weight of the arm on the shoulder. Early range of motion exercises are encouraged to maintain should movement and prevent stiffness.
Most scapular fractures heal in around 6 weeks. Once pain free strengthening exercises can be used to regain full strength and maintain healthy movement patterns at the shoulder. In cases where the bone is fractured into multiple pieces or the bones are displaced considerably, then surgery may be required to fix the scapula back together using wires or pins.