Broken Shoulder

(Fractured Humerus)

Reviewed/Revised Jan 2023
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What is a broken shoulder?

A broken shoulder is a break near the top of your upper arm bone, close to your shoulder joint. This bone is called the humerus. All broken bones are considered fractures. For more information, see Overview of Broken Bones.

Shoulder Fracture

Fractures that occur in the upper part of the upper arm bone (humerus) cause pain in the shoulder because the upper arm bone is part of the shoulder joint. The upper arm bone may fracture in different places. One example is shown below.

  • You usually break your shoulder by falling with your arm outstretched

  • Broken shoulders are more common in older people

  • You'll have pain and may not be able to move your arm at the shoulder

  • Most of the time, you'll just need to wear a sling, but sometimes doctors do surgery

What causes the shoulder to break?

Common causes:

  • A hard hit to the upper arm or shoulder

  • Falling down with your arm outstretched

What are the symptoms of a broken shoulder?

Symptoms include:

  • Pain and swelling in the shoulder

  • Difficulty raising your arm

  • Sometimes, numbness in your upper arm

How can doctors tell if my shoulder is broken?

Doctors do:

How do doctors treat a broken shoulder?

Doctors treat a broken shoulder with:

  • A sling, and sometimes also a swathe (a strap that holds the sling against your body)

  • Exercises to keep your shoulder from becoming stiff

  • Sometimes, surgery for bad fractures

If you need surgery, the surgeon may use metal plates, screws, or wires to hold your bones in place while they heal. Sometimes, the surgeon will put in an artificial shoulder joint (joint replacement).

After the broken bone heals, your shoulder will be stiff. You'll need to do exercises to loosen it up and get your strength back.

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