Collarbone (clavicle) fractures are common in sports injuries, bike accidents, and motor vehicle accidents. Historically, clavicle fractures have been allowed to heal naturally by putting the arm in a sling until the bones knit themselves back together. The prevailing thought was that these types of fractures do well without surgery. More recently, studies have shown that up to one-third of patients are unhappy with the outcome of this “leave-it-alone” approach. The reasons for patient dissatisfaction are often that the bones fail to completely heal back together (nonunion) or heal incorrectly and leave an unsightly bump or a shortened collarbone that may be painful.
The most commonly used surgical procedure, the plate and screw fixation technique, has been used since just after the Civil War. Although this method is very effective in stabilizing the fracture, this type of fixation does have some drawbacks. One disadvantage is that insertion of the plate and screws requires a large incision, which leaves a very unsightly scar in a highly visible location. Furthermore, the plate tends to be prominent and painful. The complication rate associated with plating claviclefractures is approximately 20%. Painful plates frequently have to be removed which results in a weakened collarbone that is more susceptible to future or additional fractures.
New technology has recently been developed to provide a minimally invasive surgical approach for clavicle fracture stabilization. This fixation technique uses a flexible rod that is placed inside the canal of the broken collarbone through a very small incision. Advantages of this minimally invasive approach include much more cosmetically pleasing scars, a much faster recovery time, and earlier return to normal function and activity. Recent studies have shown that this new minimally invasive treatment results in 53% fewer secondary surgical interventions for complications compared to the plate and screw fixation technique. In addition, this approach does not weaken the collarbone the way plates and screws do.