How should I sleep with a broken collarbone?

Breaking a collarbone is no laughing matter. It’s incredibly painful and can take six to eight weeks, or longer, to fully heal.

X-Ray Human Collarbone

Our collarbones, also known as our clavicles, are the two long bones that span across the chest, connecting the arms to the body. It’s a serious injury and getting a good night’s sleep can be a challenge with a broken collarbone. There are strategies to sleep better, including using pillows as a prop, taking pain medicine as needed, icing the fracture, taking breaks from the sling, and generally taking it easy.

Clavicle fractures and who is most likely to suffer from them

Most often, clavicle breaks occur from a fall or other high energy impact on the shoulder or an outstretched hand. This could happen when playing sports, like football, hockey, and wrestling, or doing other high-energy activities, like snowboarding. Car accidents are also a leading cause due to the trauma on impact.

Infants to teenagers are a higher risk for these types of fractures because the collarbone doesn’t completely harden until around age 20. It’s the most common fracture of childhood. Infants can even suffer this fracture when being born and pushed through the birth canal. Once our bone mineral density begins to deteriorate with age, our risk for breaking a collarbone increases again. The elderly are more likely to break a collarbone from a fall, such as when cleaning the house or slipping on ice outdoors, due to decreased muscle strength, balance, and coordination.

Getting a good night’s sleep with a clavicle fracture

Living with a broken collarbone can be incredibly painful and make sleeping difficult. Our bones are able to heal themselves after most fractures, depending on the severity, but sleep and rest are key to strengthening the body and immune response. To get a better rest throughout the night, you should:

  • Make use of extra pillows. Using extra pillows to prop yourself up when sleeping with a broken clavicle can help relieve pain. Sleeping in a more upright position may be more comfortable and allow for a better rest. You may also find it more comfortable to use pillows to prop up the arm on the side of your body with the fracture.
  • Take pain medicine as directed by your healthcare provider. Medication to alleviate the pain of a clavicle break may be prescribed by your doctor, otherwise, use over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Take it when you need it, but don’t exceed the daily limit, and never take two or more different pain medications at the same time.
  • Ice it. Cold packs should be used on and off to minimize swelling and pain. Ice your broken collarbone for 10 to 20 minutes at a time, every couple of hours, for the first few days after the injury. If you are still experiencing pain and swelling, continue with cold packs on the fracture site. Use a barrier, such as a towel or other fabric, between the ice and your skin, as it can burn.
  • Take breaks from your sling. Often, doctors will prescribe the use of a sling on the attached arm after a clavicle break. By minimizing movement of the collarbone, it allows the bone to heal and pain to be reduced. The sling should be worn throughout the day but can be taken off at night or when bathing. But you may need to experiment, as some people find wearing a sling while sleeping more comfortable.
  • Be easy on your body throughout the day. Avoid contact sports and strenuous activities while you’re healing. Even less intensive activities like riding a bike or climbing a ladder put you at an increased risk for a fall back onto the broken collarbone, which will likely lead to a severe injury and require surgery to repair it. Discuss exercise options with your doctor and consult them regarding the healing of your fracture and when you can resume normal activities. Allowing your body an ample amount of rest will ensure a smoother recovery. Once the healing of the clavicle is underway and it’s comfortable to do so, start slowly moving the elbow, hand, and fingers of the affected arm.

How to quickly heal a fractured collarbone

A good sleep alone is often not enough for healing a broken bone, but there are innovations in quickening the process. Meghan, a fitness instructor, broke her clavicle at the age of 43. She was told by two different doctors that she needed surgery to heal the fracture but she didn’t want to go that route.

“Don’t be afraid to look at alternatives,” said Meghan. After doing her own research and discussing her options with a colleague, she was referred to Medlines Inc. for low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) therapy.

LIPUS therapy uses painless sound energy to stimulate the bone and speed the healing of a fracture. Meghan was able to heal her broken collarbone without needing surgery. She was also suffering from discomfort in her knee and was told she had osteoarthritis in the joint. After using a LIPUS device on her knee for several weeks, the pain was gone and she began to feel much healthier overall.

LIPUS treatment can be used without a doctor’s supervision and only requires twenty minutes of use per day. It can be used to quicken the healing of a clavicle fracture. On average, fresh fractures will heal 38 percent faster than those that have not been treated with ultrasound energy.

We help Canadians across the country to heal from a broken bone, providing a LIPUS subsidized rental program for patients and practitioners. With more than 15 years of experience with LIPUS devices, we’ve worked with people suffering many types of fractures, including difficult clavicle breaks, and we look forward to discussing your healing process with you.

Have you ever had a broken collarbone and found it difficult to sleep? What worked for you and what tips above would you try? Post your questions, concerns, and comments about collarbone fracture healing below.