Broken Shoulder (Fractured Humerus)

john-miller-physio zoe-russell-physiotherapist

Article by J. MillerZ. Russell

What is a Broken Shoulder? 

A broken shoulder is most commonly a fractured humerus. A fracture is a medical term for a broken bone. The humerus is your upper arm bone between your shoulder and elbow.

When your humerus is fractured near or at the ball of your shoulder joint, it is commonly known as a broken shoulder. Your humerus can be broken in many places and the fracture is normally described by its location eg a fractured neck of the humerus. 

Broken Shoulder

Please Note: "fractured" is the medical term for a "broken bone".  Despite what your friends say, there is no difference in severity between a fractured bone and a broken bone.

Common Shoulder Fractures

Due to the main reason for shoulder fractures being falls, often a second shoulder fracture will occur at the same time.  

The location of these fractures can have an impact on your treatment because of the attachment of important shoulder muscles.  If you use a muscle that is attached to a broken section this can be very painful or can cause a deformity when your fracture eventually heals.  

Below is a list of muscles that attach to different parts of the shoulder.  Your physiotherapist or doctor will be able to explain what you should and shouldn't do if you have a fracture of the following regions:

  • Greater tuberosity - supraspinatus, infraspinatus & teres minor
  • Lesser tuberosity - subscapularis
  • Humeral Head
  • Shaft of Humerus - pec major (displaces shaft medially & internal rotation)

How is Your Broken Shoulder Treated?

Shoulder Fracture

After your broken shoulder has been diagnosed via an X-ray, your arm will most likely be supported at the wrist in a "collar and cuff" sling. This allows the weight of the arm to pull the humerus downwards. The downward pull helps the broken bones to heal in the correct position.

You must not put anything under your elbow in an attempt to support the weight of your arm. This would push your humerus upwards and move the bones into the wrong position. This is why you are not given a triangular sling. You must not rest your arm on a pillow when sitting or lying. You will need to wear the collar and cuff for at least six weeks depending on what your doctor recommends. You may wear it outside your clothes. You may remove it to wash.

Surgery is sometimes required to stabilise your broken shoulder. This surgery is undertaken by an Orthopaedic Surgeon who specialises in shoulder fractures.

Broken Shoulder Treatment

Yes! Your shoulder will be quite painful for the first two weeks. Pain-relieving tablets may help to reduce your pain. Ask your doctor for advice. 

Physiotherapy & Exercises for a Broken Shoulder

Your arm will usually be in a collar and cuff for six weeks.  You must move your fingers and wrist whilst in the collar and cuff to prevent stiffness and swelling.  

Your doctor or physiotherapist will advise you when it is safe to recommend range of motion, active-assisted, active and then progressive strengthening exercises. DO NOT attempt to do too much too soon or you may disturb your shoulder fracture.

While it is important to move your shoulder to prevent stiffness, your priority is the allow the shoulder fracture to heal.  Be guided by your health professionals. They are the experts in getting your broken shoulder healed and back moving again as soon as possible.

Even with diligent exercising your broken shoulder may become stiffer than normal. Your physiotherapist is the best person to advise you which exercises to do, how often and when?  Seek the advice of your physiotherapist early (within the first week after the injury is ideal) to attain your best outcome. 

Will Your Broken Shoulder Fully Recover?

In most cases, Yes! Your broken shoulder will continue to improve for up to twelve months. However, your best results will occur early.

Broken Shoulder Tips


You may remove the collar and cuff to wash.  Wash under your arm using a hanging pendulum position.


You cannot drive whilst your arm is in a collar and cuff.  You will not have free movement of your arm for several weeks after the sling has been removed.  Therefore you will not be able to drive for at least eight weeks.


This depends on your job.  If you can work one-handed, you may be able to return to work two weeks after your injury.  This also depends on you being able to get to work.  If your job is manual you will be unable to work for at least three months.


In most cases, you may participate in light non-contact sports about six weeks after your injury.  When you start playing, you will not be able to play for as long as normal.  Your shoulder will ache at the end of exercises.


You should not smoke whilst your fracture is healing. Research confirms that smoking slows down bone healing.

Broken Shoulder Complications

Occasionally, your broken shoulder may not heal properly.  If this happens an operation might be necessary.  If the broken shoulder heals in the wrong position an operation to correct the position or to insert an artificial shoulder might be necessary.

General Advice for Broken Shoulder

After a broken shoulder, you will have dramatic bruising down your arm as far as the elbow. This is normal. The bruising will take many days to disappear. This is a common injury in older patients. As a result, your shoulder usually ends up stiffer than normal following this injury. If you have any problems or queries, please ask your physiotherapist or doctor. 

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Common Treatments for a Broken Shoulder

  • Early Injury Treatment
  • Avoid the HARM Factors
  • Scapular Stabilisation Exercises
  • Rotator Cuff Exercises
  • Shoulder Exercises
  • Biomechanical Analysis
  • Proprioception & Balance Exercises
  • Agility & Sport-Specific Exercises
  • Medications?
  • Soft Tissue Massage
  • Brace or Support
  • Dry Needling
  • Electrotherapy & Local Modalities
  • Heat Packs
  • Joint Mobilisation Techniques
  • Kinesiology Tape
  • Neurodynamics
  • Prehabilitation
  • Scapulohumeral Rhythm Exercises
  • Strength Exercises
  • TENS Machine
  • Video Analysis
  • Related Shoulder Injuries

    General Information

    Rotator Cuff

    Adhesive Capsulitis

    Shoulder Bursitis

    Shoulder Instability

    Acromioclavicular Joint

    Bone Injuries

    Post-Operative Physiotherapy

    Muscle Conditions

    Systemic Conditions

    Referred Pain

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    FAQs about a Broken Shoulder

  • Common Physiotherapy Treatment Techniques
  • What is Pain?
  • Physiotherapy & Exercise
  • When Should Diagnostic Tests Be Performed?
  • Massage Styles and their Benefits
  • Can Kinesiology Taping Reduce Your Swelling and Bruising?
  • Heat Packs. Why does heat feel so good?
  • How Much Treatment Will You Need?
  • Rotator Cuff: What is it?
  • What are the Common Massage Therapy Techniques?
  • What are the Early Warning Signs of an Injury?
  • What Can You Do To Help Arthritis?
  • What Causes Rotator Cuff Impingement & Bursitis?
  • What is a TENS Machine?
  • What is Chronic Pain?
  • What is Nerve Pain?
  • What is Sports Physiotherapy?
  • What is the Shoulder Impingement Zone?
  • What is your Scapulohumeral Rhythm?
  • What's the Benefit of Stretching Exercises?
  • When Can You Return to Sport?
  • When Should You Use a Shoulder Posture Brace?
  • Why Kinesiology Tape Helps Reduce Swelling and Bruising Quicker
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    Book Online

    Helpful Products for Fractured Shoulders

    Fractured Shoulder (Neck of Humerus)

    More info: Shoulder Pain

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    Last updated 25-Sep-2019 09:03 AM

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