Broken shoulders actually account for 1 in 20 broken bones.
This is perhaps surprising because must of us are probably more used to seeing people with broken arms and legs.
What exactly is a broken shoulder?
A Broken shoulder in medical terms, is a proximal humerus fracture. In other words a break at the top of the upper arm.
Proximal indicates nearest to, humerus is the upper arm, and fracture meaning a break.
A proximal humerus fracture usually occurs after a hard fall. The fracture or break is at the top of the arm bone, but the shoulder is not usually displaced. A broken shoulder, shoulder fracture, or proximal humerus fracture is also more prevalent in the elderly, and those with osteoporosis.
Diagnosis of a Broken Shoulder
A broken shoulder occurs when the ball of the shoulder joint is broken. The break is at the top of the humerus that forms the shoulder joint. The break does not usually involve the shoulder being pulled completely out of place.
The proximal humerus, or upper part of the shoulder, is where the important rotator cuff muscles are located. Injury to the proximal humerus affects the function of the rotator cuff muscles, which gives the shoulder stability and movement.
What causes a broken shoulder?
When bones become too porous because of aging, or disease, they are prone to breaks. Osteoporotic bone is the major cause of a broken shoulder. The bone becomes less dense, and fragile to exterior pressures applied. This is why the elderly are at greater risk for breaking their shoulder during a fall. Broken shoulders account for approximately five percent of all fractures. The number is rising however, due to people living longer lives.
When the shoulder is broken, the axillary nerve is the most commonly injured nerve. The axillary nerve carries sensory information from the shoulder to the brain. If the shoulder is broken, the patient will lose skin sensation over the lateral, or outer deltoid muscle. The deltoid muscle is just beneath the skin, giving the shoulder a rounded appearance, and is used to raise the arm. The deltoid muscle will also lose its ability to contract, or move if there is a fracture.
Broken Shoulder Symptoms
Some other specific symptoms of a broken shoulder are severe swelling, very limited movement, and severe pain.
The symptoms are very similar to a dislocated shoulder. If the shoulder is dislocated however, you may see an irregular shape to the arm, or it looks deformed.
It is possible for the shoulder to be dislocated and broken at the same time, therefore an x-ray or computed tomography (CT) scan may be ordered to diagnose the shoulder properly.
Tim Allardyce DO MCSP SRP