Swollen Clavicle (Collarbone Swelling)

The human clavicle, also known as the collarbone, is a short bone that connects the upper limbs (arms) to the trunk. It can be easily felt under the skin lying above the first rib and in thin people it can also be clearly seen. The clavicle is a strong and resilient bone that has to bear the weight of the upper limb and remains firm in its position to provide stability to the ligaments and muscles attached to it. It has two important joints – the acromioclavicular (AC) joint where it meets the shoulder blade (scapula) and the sternoclavicular (SC) joint where it meets with the breastbone (sternum).

What is a swollen clavicle?

A swollen clavicle is any fluid accumulation or enlargement in and around the collarbone. In some cases the swelling does not involve the collarbone itself. The most common cause is soft tissue injury which commonly affects the muscles and subcutaneous tissue thereby causing swelling over the clavicle. It may involve any of the muscles that attach to the clavicle as well as the platysma muscle which lies above and over the top of the clavicle. Swelling of the clavicle itself is referred to as a bony swelling. It may arise with injury to the bone and is more prominent with a fracture.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons

Symptoms of a Swollen Clavicle

A swollen clavicle is a symptom and not a disease. It may be accompanied by various other symptoms including :

  • Pain – collarbone pain, sometimes also described as shoulder pain.
  • Tenderness
  • Difficulty moving the arm or shoulder
  • Redness of the skin
  • Heat of the area
  • Pain, numbness or tingling of the arm

The symptoms may vary and depend on the cause of clavicle swelling.

Causes of swollen clavicle

It is important to first differentiate between soft tissue swelling around the clavicle and swelling of the bone itself. Swelling occurs due to inflammation which is the mechanism to protect tissue that is undergoing any injury or damage. The blood vessels allow fluid to seep out into the tissue spaces which then accumulates and causes edema (swelling).

Injury

Trauma is the most common cause of a swollen clavicle. It may occur with or without a fracture. Some of the causes of injury to the clavicle includes :

  • Car accidents, even minor collision as the force when the seatbelt restrains the body may injure the chest and particularly the clavicle.
  • Blows, related to falls, assault and other such injuries.
  • Surgery.
  • Sporting injuries.

Being a bone, the clavicle is hard and fairly resistant stress and injury. Minor injury may cause soft tissue swelling arising from the tissue just underneath the skin (subcutaneous tissue), the muscles like the platysma muscle, tendons of the muscles that attach to the clavicle, connective tissue or ligaments. Major injuries may possibly cause a fracture of the clavicle.

Infections

An infection of the clavicle rarely occurs on its own without other bones or surrounding tissue also being involved. It is more likely to be due to bacteria which may reach the bone through one of the followings routes :

  • Direct entry of microbes into into the soft tissue or bone through a break in the skin (laceration) or deep piercing injuries.
  • Spread into the internal soft tissue of the bone through the bloodstream from a distant site.
  • Extension of an infection from the neighbouring site, like the pleura or lungs.

This infection of the bone is known as osteomyelitis. Sometimes they infection does not affect the bone but occurs around it most notably in the subcutaneous tissue and skin in which case it is known as cellulitis. However, cellulitis is not common on the trunk of the body and when it does occur it can quickly spread to the internal organs with severe complications or even fatal consequences. Another infectious cause of clavicle swelling is congenital syphilis (present from birth). Swelling of the clavicle at this point is a late feature of syphilis.

Bones and Joints

Swelling of the bone is most likely associated with severe trauma, certain disorders with bone growth and remodeling and bone tumors.

  • Paget’s disease of the bone where there is a disruption in the balance between bone break down and growth.
  • Bone tumors of the clavicle, which are uncommon. Most of these rare tumors are benign although metastatic spread from other sites, particularly pleura and lungs, a been responsible for classical cancer.
  • Nutritional deficiencies of vitamin D, calcium or phosphate deficiency. Usually this presents as rickets in children or osteomalacia in adults which is commonly known as soft bone disease.

In terms of joint inflammation, the more likely joint to be affected is the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, where the clavicle meets the shoulder blade. However, this joint is largely covered by the rotator cuff muscles of the shoulder and swelling at the area is barely visible. It is therefore more likely for inflammation of the SC joint, where a clavicle meets the breastbone sternum, to lead to visible or palpable swelling since it lies superficially. This will be evident as swelling closer to the midline, near the top of the breast bone.

  • Arthritis which is inflammation of the joint lining, sometimes involving the joint cartilage and even extending to the ends of the bones of the joint.
  • Arthrosis which is the degeneration of the cartilage lining the ends of the bones of the joint like AC joint arthrosis.
  • Dislocation where there is a separation of the bones in the joint.

Muscle and Ligaments

Inflammation of the muscles or ligaments of the clavicle may also contribute to swelling. This includes the muscles and ligaments that attach to the clavicle or overlap it. Inflammation and subsequent swelling may be associated with :

  • Bursitis
  • Tendonitis
  • Torn muscle
  • Sprain which is stretching or tearing of the ligament, particularly the acromioclavicular ligament.

Lymph nodes

There are several groups of lymph nodes lying above, below and slightly in front of the clavicle. Often swelling of these lymph nodes is mistaken for swelling of the clavicle. An inflamed lymph node (lymphadenitis) or other causes of lymph node enlargement (lymphadenopathy) may be caused by :

  • Infections of the lungs and, pleura, airways or throat.
  • Dental infections
  • Systemic viral infections like HIV / AIDS
  • Tumors like lymphoma (lymph node cancer) or leukemia

Other possible causes have been discussed under swollen neck lymph nodes.

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  • shakshi goyal

    hello ,my mother having a pain in clavicle bone ,swelling occur and diabetes also,pls give suggestion about the pain.

  • Hi Shakshi. We cannot say for sure what is wrong with your mother and whether it is related to the diabetes. There are so many possible causes and she should consult in person with a doctor. We cannot make any suggestion for the pain on an online forum.

  • Sophie

    Hello, over a year ago I had a viral infection in my right side of face/ear and dizziness! After this happened I noticed 2 tiny lumps attached to my collar bone one above and one underneath. They are very small and have not got bigger, they do not hurt although they do sometimes ache! Do you think they are related to the virus I had?

  • Linda

    I noticed the swelling a few weeks ago. I also have a solid tumor (non cancerous) between my back and my shoulder which came about a year ago and I have yet to have it removed. I also have noticed in the past two weeks my finger nails have started to lift from my fingers. I have a doctors appointment for next week. Do you think any of the above are related or just many symptoms of becoming old. Lol. I’m 49 years old.

  • Hi Linda.. No this is unlikely to be age-related if it has occurred suddenly. Hopefully you have seen a doctor for both your complaints and any serious conditions have been excluded at this point in time.

  • lara

    My husband (38 y.o.) has swelling at the base of his neck above his clavicle where there should be hollows. He has been an alcoholic for many years, and a smoker since he was born. I am extremely concerned for obvious reasons, not the least of which is the fact that his alcohol tolerance has decreased markedly- he gets fairly drunk from four beers now, instead of twelve. He also refuses to see a doctor on the basis that he thinks I am exaggerating. I am not. Any ideas what this could be?

  • Ju’Waun Howard

    I was playing basketball a few months ago and I took a fatal blow to my shoulder after I fell from trying to retrieve a rebound . Every since then my shoulder swells after every football game. Any treatments for me to reduce this ?

  • Tim Jackson

    I broke my collarbone last year, it still hurts they told me it would heal this way, and if I’m in the house my collarbone won’t swell but when I step outside to work it gets stiff and swells. What does it mean. And you see my bone how it healed

  • Hi Ju’Waun. You need to see a doctor and assess whether there was any fracture, muscle/tendon/ligament tears or possibly post-traumatic arthritis at the time of your previous injury. You need to be assessed by a doctor and possibly go for further investigations like an x-ray. Even minor soft tissue inflammation can exacerbate with recurrent strain. You may need to have a rest period where you are not straining the area any further. Cold therapy can work well immediately after an injury or strain with heat therapy thereafter but these are short term measures and there is no avoiding a rest period to allow your body to heal. Speak to a doctor or physical therapist.

  • Hi Tim. You need to discuss these aspects with your orthopedist, preferably the one who treated you originally. At this point the healing is completed so if the bones are misaligned the options are limited. Bones allow for muscles and tendons to attach to it, move where it meets other bones at the respective joint and transmits force. So if the bone has not properly healed or aligned then these functions are disturbed. Your orthopedist will explain this in details and consider options for managing life with your current difficulties.

  • Kelly

    I started having pain in the left side of my neck thinking it may be a muscle put it got more intense no matter what I did to try and releave the pain. Now the side of my neck and shoulder and collar bone is swollen and to touch my collar bone is extremely painful. Can anyone help me out

  • Lisa

    I have intermittent left scapula pain. It is also very painful to the shoulder. I have a herniated disc at C4/C5 as well as 2 lower lumbar discs, which of course are not related to this, from an accident years ago. When the pain is present it is very bad and moving my arm and even fingers aggravates it. I am really curious what could be causing it.

  • Hi Lisa. It is possible that your scapula pain is related to the cervical disc herniation. You would need further investigations to confirm this. However, in the absence of a neurological cause it is also quite common for it to be muscular in origin, if you did not have any preceding injury. In fact most of the time it is muscular but given you history you would also have to exclude nerve root compression. It is possible that the previous herniation is worsening. Speak to your doctor about it.

  • Lisa

    Thanks, I did go to my PCP last week. He did a full exam and said it appears to be muscular as the origin of the pain is where the muscles meet under the collarbone and most likely from repetitive movement of that arm plus I am left handed which adds to the problem constantly using that arm adding to the problem.

    He put me on Naproxen 500mg twice a day for a month. He said if that doesn’t help or if it gets worse we will try PT.

    It seems to be helping as I haven’t had any episodes of pain as severe as it was. Just a few mild ones.

    Thanks again for the response.

  • amused

    I have had right shoulder pain for over a year, started out mild, recently got bad enough I made an appt for next week. Along with that, I have noticed over the past 2 months that the end of the collarbone (neck end, where they make the little bumps at the base of the throat) has been enlarging and is now noticeably larger than the left one. It is also tender to the touch, there and all along the bone to the shoulder. Does this sound like it’s all part of the same thing? I do have an arthritic spur in the back of the shoulder. Thanks – I just wanted a hint before I went in next week.

  • Kim

    I have had issues with my shoulder/neck/pectoral muscle on and off for the last year – more on than off. For the last several months it has been about 5 out of 7 days a week that I’m in discomfort. My collarbone on the right side is swollen and slightly red. It is quite sensitive to the touch, and I have two small children who will lean their head back and hit it causing severe pain. I’ve been to the chiropractor who says that I have severe spasms in my pec and severe tightness all around my back shoulder. When I sit, leaning back into my couch, and I get up, my pec spasms so badly I can hardly breathe. I do stretches to try to release it when I feel it getting tight and it seems to help, but only delays the severe tightness. I haven’t had any trauma to it, have had an x ray to rule out any fracture. The top of my shoulder/neck are extremely tight and when I push on them, I do feel it all the way down my back. No pain in the arm or hand. Any thoughts?

  • Ijas Ahmed

    My father had a flat swelling above the clavocle near to throat on the left side. He suffer from certain pain at some time. Otherwise heis fit. Now he is sufferd from this swelling pls help

  • HI Ijas.Swelling and pain without any other symptoms is really difficult to diagnose. He needs to see a doctor who will assess all his symptoms and also look at running further tests. Do not delay speaking to a doctor because this could be an early symptom of various diseases, as you can see from the article above. A doctor will be able to advise you accordingly.

  • Ijas Ahmed

    We have discussed eith a doctor. He adviced us to took a biopsy. We had taken a ultra sound scan here i had uploaded it

  • Hi Kim. Really difficult to say on an online platform. By your account it does seem to be a muscle spasm problem but it may be a good idea to get a second opinion. Some of these symptoms like difficulty breathing could be related to serious disorders that may involve your airways, lungs or heart. The only way to know for sure is with further investigations. Since the exact cause has not been isolated as yet, you may want to ask your doctor for a referral to a relevant specialist who can then conduct further tests.

  • Kim

    Thank you so much for the reply. I should have made myself more clear. When I stated it was difficult to breathe, I meant because of the pain, not because it was actually difficult to breathe. Thanks!!

  • Hi Kim. As mentioned it does sound like its related to the musculoskeletal (muscles, joints and bones) system. This type of strain of the chest is more often seen with prolonged rapid breathing, vomiting, poor posture and carrying heavy objects for long periods. With regards to the latter, the force on the arms is transmitted to the chest. Actually any strenuous physical activity involving the arms could cause this as the pecs play a role in stabilizing and moving the arms. However, there could be various other causes. You may want to consider consulting with an orthopedic specialist at this point.