Fractured Clavicle: How Long Does It Take to Heal?

If you watched the Buffalo Bills game last Sunday, you likely held your breath as you saw running back C.J. Spiller land very hard on his left shoulder and fracture his clavicle.

A clavicle fracture is a painful bone fracture that occurs from a high force due to a fall on an outstretched arm, a fall on the shoulder, or a direct hit to the clavicle.

The clavicle, more commonly known as the collarbone, is an S-shaped bone that connects the trunk of the body to the arm and is positioned right above the first rib. On one end, it attaches to the sternum or breastbone, and on the other end, it connects to the scapula, or shoulder blade.

Following the fracture, there is typically extreme pain and swelling over the clavicle and upper chest. There is often pain in the surrounding muscles, and severe pain with any movement of the shoulder. On Sunday, you could see how much pain Spiller was in immediately after his injury.

Following the diagnosis by X-ray, the shoulder is typically placed in a sling, and an orthopedic physician determines the course of treatment.  Depending on the location of the fracture and the extent of the break, surgery may or may not be indicated. In Spiller’s case, surgery was indicated.

Recovery time varies, but for adults who have had their collarbone repaired, six weeks of sling immobilization is the recommended initial treatment for healing.

This of course is a challenge for any athlete who wants to resume competitive activity. After immobilization, the athlete starts to restore active motion and strength training, with the goal of returning to their sport.

For a football athlete, rehabilitation strongly focuses on strengthening, closed kinetic chain strengthening (when the arm is essentially in a weight-bearing or pushup position), end ranges of motion, and the ability to handle direct collision to the shoulder pain-free.

The general timeframe for returning to competitive football is anywhere from six weeks to three months, depending on the pain level, location of fracture, surgical intervention, and severity. Some articles have shown that surgical repair may take a few weeks longer to return to a sport; however, the chance for re-injury is less.

In C.J. Spiller’s case, Buffalo Bills fans are crossing their fingers and hoping for a quick recovery. The running back is a key player, and this is also his contract year.

For more information on how Physical Therapists help clavicle fractures, please contact us at