The scapula refers to bones in the shoulder and scapula fractures are not very common and are often accompanied by severe pain. They make up just about 1% of all fractures and up to 75% of all such fractures are caused by motor accidents, contact sports, rock climbing and other such traumatic events.

Scapula Fracture and Shoulder Anatomy

The scapula bones are on either side of the upper back and connect the clavicle to the humerus. It is a large, triangular bone that can be divided into:

  • Scapular body
  • Acromion
  • Coracoid
  • Glenoid
  • Scapular neck

More than half the scapula fractures affect the scapular body while 25% of these fractures affect the scapular neck fracture.

Symptoms of Scapula Fractures

Severe pain is one of the most typical symptoms of the fracture. This pain is usually localized to the shoulder blades and upper back. It may be worsened by moving the arm or taking deep breaths. The person may be unable to lift the arm because of severe pain. The condition has other symptoms too which include:

  • Swelling in the shoulder and upper back
  • Bruising
  • Inability to lift the arm and hold it still
  • Weakness and a tingling sensation in the arm
  • If movement is possible, the person may feel a grinding sensation
  • The shoulder appears disfigured or flattened

Scapula fractures are often accompanied by fractures to other bones in the shoulder or ribs.

Causes and Risk Factors Of Scapula Fractures

Some of the factors that increase a person’s risk of having a scapula fracture are:

  • Driving without wearing a seatbelt
  • Underlying conditions like osteoporosis that weaken bone mass
  • Participating in activities like horseback riding, rock climbing, cycling, etc.
  • Playing contact sports like football and rugby

Scapula Fractures Diagnosis

In many cases, the diagnosis is delayed because the person usually has many other fractures and injuries. To diagnose this one, doctors will need to conduct a thorough physical examination. In addition, tests such as an X-ray of the chest and shoulder and CT scan of the shoulder, chest and mid-section may also be required.

Scapula Fractures Treatment

In most cases, surgery is not required to treat a scapula fracture. It can be treated with non-surgical methods of treatment such as:

  • Immobilizing the shoulder with a sling or shoulder immobilizer
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to manage the pain
  • Icing the shoulder to reduce inflammation. Icepacks should not be applied directly to the skin but covered with a thick cloth or towel.
  • Physical therapy

It may take anywhere between 6 and 12 months for the fracture to heal completely and to restore full shoulder movement.

Post Surgery Care

Surgery is typically required only if the fracture has displaced or the glenoid socket or clavicle is fractured. A surgical procedure is typically followed by about 8 weeks of mild exercise and more aggressive shoulder exercises post the first 8 weeks. After 12 weeks, resistant exercises may also be made part of the physical therapy. Most people recover fully from a scapula fracture with timely diagnosis and treatment.

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