Shoulder blade fractures are blunt trauma injuries involving a break in the scapula, which is the bone commonly referred to as the shoulder blade. While rare, such an injury can result from an accident such as a high-speed vehicle collision or a fall from a considerable height. Scapular fractures account for less than one percent of all broken bones and about five percent of all shoulder fractures.
Symptoms of a fractured scapula include extreme pain, swelling, and skin abrasions. Approximately 80-95 percent of shoulder blade fractures also lead to other major injuries, including damage to the ribs, lungs, skull, or spinal cord. These associated injuries tend to receive priority treatment, and scapular fractures are sometimes neglected or receive a delayed diagnosis. Untreated, such a fracture can lead to chronic pain or disability.
Most shoulder blade fractures can be treated with a sling, which holds the arm in place long enough for the fracture to heal. Such fractures typically heal within six weeks. More serious scapular fractures will require open surgery procedures. These operations are usually quite effective for relieving any pain or reduced mobility that has resulted from the injury.
Any course of treatment will need to be followed by a rehabilitation program to restore mobility to the shoulder. Physical therapy generally involves a range of motion exercises, followed by strengthening exercises. Full recovery from shoulder blade fractures can take several months after removing a sling, or six months to a year after surgery, but the ultimate prognosis in such cases is usually excellent.