Shoulder Trauma (Fractures & Dislocations)
The shoulder joint is a ball and socket joint. A ‘ball’ at the top of the upper arm bone (the humerus) fits neatly into a ‘socket’, called the glenoid, which is part of the shoulder blade (scapula). The labrum is a ring of fibrous cartilage surrounding the glenoid for stabilization of the shoulder joint. The biceps tendon attaches inside the shoulder joint at the superior labrum of the shoulder joint. The biceps tendon is a long cord-like structure which attaches the biceps muscle to the shoulder and helps to stabilize the joint.
The shoulder joint is the most flexible joint of the body. It allows different motions of the hands making it possible for us to do a vast array of different activities; however, its flexibility makes it more prone to injuries. A fracture is a break in the bone that commonly occurs as a result of injury, such as a fall or a direct blow to the shoulder. The type of shoulder fracture depends of the age of the patients. Clavicle fractures are more common in children. A fracture of the upper part of the arm (proximal humerus) is more common in elderly individuals and its frequency increases with age.
A clavicle fracture, also called broken collarbone is a common fracture that happens to people of all ages. The collarbone, also called the clavicle, is the bone that connects your sternum or breastbone to your shoulder. A broken collarbone normally occurs after a fall onto the shoulder or a motor vehicle accident. The most common sports associated with clavicle fractures include football, hockey, and skiing.
A broken collarbone most often causes pain, swelling and bruising over the collarbone. Pain increases with shoulder movement. Your shoulder may be slumped downward and forward. You may also have a bump around the area of the break. You may hear a grinding sound when you try to raise your arm.
To diagnose a broken collarbone, your doctor will take a brief history about the injury, and perform a physical examination of your shoulder. An X-ray of the clavicle is taken to identify the location of the fracture. Your doctor may also recommend a computerized tomography (CT) scan in some cases.
Most broken collarbones heal without a surgery. An arm sling may support the arm and hold the bones in their normal position. You may also be given pain medications to relieve the pain. After your pain reduces your doctor may recommend gentle shoulder and elbow exercises to minimize stiffness and weakness in your shoulder. You will follow up with your doctor until your fracture heals.
Surgery may be required in cases of displaced fractures. Surgery is performed to re-align the fractured ends and stabilize them during healing. Surgery often involves use of plates and screws to maintain proper position of the bone during healing.
Proximal Humerus Fractures
The humerus is the upper arm bone and it forms two joints —shoulder joint and elbow joint. The proximal humerus refers to the upper end of the arm bone, which forms shoulder joint. Fractures of proximal humerus are common in elderly individuals, suffering from osteoporosis. Fractures may be caused by traumatic injuries such as a fall on outstretched hand or motor vehicle accidents. In younger individuals a severe trauma can cause these fractures.
Proximal humerus fractures can be categorized into 4 groups:
- Greater tuberosity fractures: Greater tuberosity is the insertion site for attachment of rotator cuff tendons. Greater tuberosity fractures are less common and are seen in cases of shoulder dislocations and in those with osteoporosis.
- Lesser tuberosity fractures: These fractures are often caused by posterior shoulder dislocations or traumatic muscle contractions by electrical shock or convulsions.
- Surgical neck fractures: Fractures of the surgical neck are most common in patients with osteoporotic bone. These fractures can also damage the axillary nerve that carries sensory and motor impulses to the shoulder.
- Humeral head fractures: Humeral head fractures are often in elderly individuals and those with osteoporotic bone. These fractures occur in younger individuals by significant trauma whereas a mild traumatic injury can cause fracture in elderly individuals with osteoporosis.
In addition to single fractures as described above, proximal humerus fractures can also occur as two, three, and four part fractures, with fragmentation of the proximal humerus.
Patients with a proximal humerus fracture experience severe pain, swelling, and restricted motion of the shoulder.
Proximal humerus fracture is diagnosed by physical examination, X-ray of the affected area, and/or computerized tomography (CT) scan.
Most proximal humerus fractures are minimally displaced and can be treated with nonsurgical approaches such as use of sling to immobilize and early physical therapy to improve the functional outcome. Surgery may be necessary in displaced fractures. The multiple fragments are fixed with plates, screws, or pins and in severe cases a shoulder replacement surgery is performed.
Scapular fractures are uncommon but do occur and require a large amount of force to fracture. They are usually the result of intense trauma, such as a high speed motor vehicle accident or a fall from height onto one’s back. They can also occur from a fall on an outstretched arm if the humeral head impacts on the glenoid cavity.
Symptoms of a scapular fracture can include the following:
- Pain: Usually severe and immediate following injury to the scapula.
- Swelling: The scapular area quickly swells following the injury.
- Bruising: Bruising occurs soon after injury.
- Impaired Mobility: Decreased range of motion of the joint occurs, often with inability to straighten the arm.
- Numbness: Numbness, tingling, or coldness of the hand and forearm can occur if blood supply is impaired or nerves are injured.
- Popping Sound: A cracking or popping sound, also referred to as crepitus, can often be heard or felt at the time of the fracture.
Scapular Fractures should be evaluated by an Orthopaedic surgeon for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Most scapular fractures are not significantly displaced due to the strong supporting soft tissue structures surrounding it. Therefore, a majority of scapular fractures are treated conservatively and with early motion to reduce the risk of stiffness and will usually heal without affecting shoulder movement. The conservative treatment options include:
- Immobilization: A sling is used for comfort and to support the shoulder to allow healing to take place. This is usually worn about 3-6 weeks depending on the type of fracture.
- Prescription Medications: Pain medications will be prescribed for your comfort during the healing process.
- Physical Therapy: Early progressive range of motion exercises is essential in restoring full shoulder function. Your physician will most likely refer you to a Physical Therapist for instruction on proper exercises and early motion of the shoulder to prevent complications.
Fractures of the scapula involving the neck or glenoid or with severe displacement may require surgery. Scapula fracture repair is usually performed through open surgery and occasionally with arthroscopic approaches.
Shoulder trauma may lead to sliding of the upper arm bone, the ball portion, out of the glenoid–the socket portion of the shoulder. The dislocation might be a partial dislocation (subluxation) or a complete dislocation causing pain and shoulder joint instability. Shoulder joint often dislocates in the forward direction (anterior instability) and it may also dislocate in backward or downward direction.
The most common symptoms of shoulder dislocation are pain and shoulder joint instability. Other symptoms such as swelling, numbness and bruising may occur. At times, it may cause tears in the ligaments or tendons of the shoulder and nerve damage. Your doctor will examine your shoulder and may order an X-ray to confirm the diagnosis.
The condition is treated by a process called closed reduction which involves placing the ball of the upper arm back into the socket. Following this, the shoulder will be immobilized using a sling for a couple weeks. Ice may be applied over the area for 3-4 times a day. After the pain and swelling subside, rehabilitation exercises may be started to restore range of motion and strengthen the rotator cuff and shoulder blade stabilizers.