Clavicle Fracture Open Reduction and Internal Fixation

What is clavicle fracture open reduction and internal fixation?

Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) is a type of surgery used to stabilize and heal a broken bone. You might need this procedure to treat your broken collarbone (clavicle).

The clavicle is a long thin bone located between your ribcage (sternum) and the shoulder blade (scapula). It is the bone that connects the arm to the body. It is also called the collarbone. Different kinds of injury can damage this bone, causing it to break (fracture) into 2 or more pieces. Most often, this happens along the middle of the bone. In some cases the bone breaks near where it attaches to the ribcage. Or near where it attaches to the shoulder blade.

In certain types of clavicle fractures, your clavicle has broken, but its pieces still line up correctly. In other types of fractures (displaced fractures), the injury moves the bone fragments out of alignment.

If you fracture your clavicle, you might need ORIF to bring your bones back into place and help them heal. During an open reduction, orthopedic surgeons reposition your bone pieces surgically back into their correct alignment. In a closed reduction, a doctor physically moves the bones back into place without surgically exposing the bone.

Internal fixation is the method of physically reconnecting the bones. This method uses special screws, plates, wires, or nails to position the bones correctly. This prevents the bones from healing abnormally. The entire procedure often takes place while you are asleep under general anesthesia.

Why might I need a clavicle fracture open reduction and internal fixation?

Certain health conditions may make fracturing your clavicle more likely. For example, having weak, brittle bones (osteoporosis) increases the risk of clavicle fracture in many older adults.

You may fracture your clavicle from a direct blow to the shoulder. This can happen while playing a sport or if you're in a motor vehicle accident. Falling on an outstretched arm may also fracture a clavicle. In some cases, a newborn baby will fracture the clavicle during birth.

Not everyone with a fractured clavicle needs ORIF. In fact, most people don’t. If possible, your doctor will treat your clavicle fracture with more conservative treatments. This means treatments other than surgery. These include pain medicines, splints, and slings.

You likely won’t need ORIF unless there is some reason your fracture might not heal normally with these conservative treatments. You may need ORIF if:

  • The pieces of your clavicle are significantly out of alignment
  • Your clavicle broke through the skin, or looks like it may break through
  • Your clavicle broke into several pieces

In these cases, ORIF can position your bones back into their correct alignment. This greatly increases the chance that your bone will heal correctly. In some cases, you might opt not to have ORIF even if your clavicle is significantly out of alignment. That's because the bone often heals correctly on its own. Your provider can talk with you about the risks and benefits of ORIF. Or they can discuss other, more conservative treatments for your situation.

How do I get ready for a clavicle fracture open reduction and internal fixation?

ORIF often takes place as an emergency or urgent procedure. Before your procedure, a healthcare provider will take your health history and do a physical exam. You’ll need an X-ray of your clavicle. Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin. Also let your doctor know the last time you ate.

In some cases, your doctors might do your ORIF as a planned procedure. If this is the case, talk with your doctor about how to get ready for the procedure. Ask if you should stop taking any medicines ahead of time, such as blood thinners. Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before your procedure.

What happens during a clavicle fracture open reduction and internal fixation?

Your surgeon can help explain the details of your particular surgery. The details of your surgery will depend on the location and severity of your injury. An orthopedic surgeon with a team of specialized healthcare providers will do the procedure. The whole procedure may take a couple of hours. In general, you can expect the following:

  • You will receive general anesthesia to make you sleep through the surgery so that you won’t feel any pain or discomfort. (Or you may receive local anesthesia and a medicine to help you relax.)
  • A healthcare professional will carefully watch your vital signs during the surgery. This includes your heart rate and blood pressure. You may have a breathing tube placed down your throat during the surgery to help you breathe.
  • After cleaning the affected area, your surgeon will make a cut (incision) through the skin and muscle near your clavicle.
  • Your surgeon will bring the pieces of your clavicle back into alignment ( reduction).
  • Next, your surgeon will secure the pieces of clavicle to each other ( fixation). To do this, they may use screws, metal plates, wires, or pins. (Ask what the surgeon will use in your case.)
  • Your surgeon may make other needed repairs.
  • After the team has secured the bone, your surgeon will surgically close the layers of skin and muscle around your clavicle.
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