Floating Shoulder

A floating shoulder injury is when two of the shoulder bones are broken. The clavicle bone (collarbone) and the upper part of the scapula bone (shoulder blade) break. These breaks cause the shoulder to pull out of place and look like it is floating. Floating shoulder injuries are typically caused by severe trauma like might occur in a car accident. You will likely be taken to an emergency room. You will be evaluated from head to toe. If you are experiencing shoulder pain or your shoulder looks out of place, your doctor will look for a floating shoulder injury.

  • Causes

    Floating shoulder injuries are rare. They are caused by a high-impact trauma. Specific injuries may be the result of:

    • Motor vehicle accident
    • Fall from a height
    • Gunshot wound
    • Crush injury
    • Bicycle accident
    Shoulder Injury During Car Crash
    car accident shoulder injury
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Definition


    A floating shoulder injury is when two of the shoulder bones are broken. The
    clavicle bone
    (collarbone) and the upper part of the scapula bone (shoulder blade) break. These breaks cause the shoulder to pull out of place and look like it is floating.

    Bones of Shoulder
    shoulder anatomy
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

    Floating shoulder injuries are typically caused by severe trauma like might occur in a car accident. You will likely be taken to an emergency room. You will be evaluated from head to toe. If you are experiencing shoulder pain or your shoulder looks out of place, your doctor will look for a floating shoulder injury.

  • Diagnosis

    A doctor will ask how you were injured. A full physical exam will be done. Your shoulder will be examined more closely. The doctor may ask a specialist to evaluate your shoulder. For example, an orthopedic surgeon specializes in bones.

    Tests may include the following:

    • X-rays—to look at for broken bones in the shoulder
    • CT scan—to look for broken bones in the shoulder and other structures that may be damaged

  • Prevention

    Floating shoulder injuries are a result of a traumatic injury. There are no known guidelines to prevent this type of injury.

  • Risk Factors

    A floating shoulder injury is a result of an accident or trauma. There are no known risk factors.

  • Symptoms

    If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to a floating shoulder. These may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

    • Severe shoulder pain
    • Muscle spasm
    • Injured arm hangs lower than unaffected arm
    • Bruising
    • Swelling
    • Numbness or weakness

  • Treatment

    The location and size of the broken bones, and how severe your other injuries are will determine the options. A floating shoulder may be treated medically or surgically. Talk with your doctor about the best plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

    Surgical repair will mean inserting a plate and screws into the broken clavicle. Your scapular bone may also be fixed surgically. The surgeon will manually reposition your bones into their normal location during surgery. After surgery, your shoulder will be placed in a sling or shoulder immobilizer. Your doctor will give you instructions as to how long you need to wear it.