When I was 11 I was sledding on a garbage bag in my grandmother’s front yard with a bunch of my cousins. Just before I hit the tree stump that we were using for a hill, I fell on my stomach and hit the stump head-on with my right shoulder. The resounding crack was so loud that my grandmother heard it inside the house. Immediate burning, aching pain and swelling ensued, and it hurt so badly I couldn’t even cry.
My aunt (who was a Paramedic) was called over to the house to inspect the possible damage. It was an obvious break, with my collar bone dented down like a “V.” Terrified of going to a doctor to have it set, I begged and pleaded not to go, and my aunt told me so long as I could still move my arm I should be OK. So I made a tiny windmill motion (my shoulder cracking and burning so badly I can’t even explain it but can feel that pain all over again) that satisfied her and never went to the doctor for my injury.
So can you heal a collar bone break without seeing a doctor? I will say yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. For one thing, I never wore a sling to support my arm, I just let my arm hang there like a rag doll. I hurt my arm on Christmas break, and it wasn’t until the following summer that I was able to fully use my arm again. To this day I can’t sleep on my right side, or lean on my right shoulder, and when I lift my arms over my head I have to crack my right shoulder to rotate the arm straight out. After a full day of typing, my right shoulder hurts like hell, similar to that pain I felt when I broke it.
You can also run into deeper problems sooner rather than later down the road. In the 8th grade I got sent home by the school nurse who stated I had scoliosis after they did the annual checks at school. Off to the doc I finally went, who after inspecting my spine said that my last 4 vertebrae were pulling to the left side to compensate for my shorter right shoulder. When I stand straight it looks like I’m holding my right shoulder down, since the collar bone break shortened my shoulder. As a result, he said I will likely have lower back pain for life, and that I have to stay moderately active to keep my back muscles strong to avoid irritating my sciatic nerve.
Am I in pain now? You betcha, but only when I slouch. I have impeccable posture since my spine digs into my back and makes my butt feel like it’s on fire or being ripped off if I slouch even for a few moments. I get people asking me all the time what I did to my shoulder because it slacks lower than the left one, and my collar bone has that deep “v” ridge to it that is way noticeable since I’m pretty thin. it looks like it’s in pieces.
So yes, I suppose you can forgo the doctor visit if you break your collar bone, but I would never recommend it. Had I gone to the doctor, they could have possibly set it so my posture wouldn’t look so goofy. My arm would probably hurt a lot less. My back would not ache like there are hot needles being pressed into it, and my butt wouldn’t feel like a Tasmanian devil was eating it alive. I’ve been to the doctor about my collar bone recently, and they confirmed a break, but told me there was little they could do about it since the injury was 15 years ago. They told me I’m lucky I don’t have long-lasting nerve damage and that I’m basically fine.
So if you break your collar bone, see a doc. They may not be able to set the break, but at least they can give you healing options so you don’t run into issues down the road. You can heal it on your own, but you’ll likely pay for it one way or the other.