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Health Information Center

Floating Shoulder

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Floating Shoulder

(Ipsilateral Fractures of the Clavicle and Scapular Neck)


A floating shoulder is a break in the clavicle bone (collarbone) and the upper part of the scapula bone (shoulder blade). The shoulder pulls out of place and looks like it is floating.

Bones of the Shoulder.

shoulder anatomyhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=77807780si55550567_105433_1.jpgsi55550567NULLjpgshoulder anatomyNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\si55550567_105433_1.jpgNULL76NULL2008-12-292843947780_445939Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


Floating shoulder is caused by trauma from:

  • A motor vehicle or bike accidents
  • Falls
  • Being shot with a gun
  • Crushing of the shoulder
Shoulder Injury During Car Crash.

car accident shoulder injuryhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=77827782CK00006_105433_1.jpgCK00006NULLjpgcar accident shoulder injuryNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\CK00006_105433_1.jpgNULL77NULL2008-12-29350394Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of floating shoulder are:

  • Not wearing a seat belt
  • Being around violence


Symptoms may be:

  • Pain
  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • The arm of the injured shoulder hanging lower than normal
  • Numbness or weakness


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Questions will also be asked about how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shoulder.

Pictures may be taken of the shoulder. This can be done with:


It can take 3 months to heal. The goal of treatment is to help the bones heal properly to prevent long term problems.


Many of these injuries happen due to motor vehicle accidents. Always wear a seat belt when riding in a car.

Putting Bones Back in Place

Some fractures may cause pieces of bone to come apart. The pieces of bone will need to be put back into place so it will heal properly. The doctor may do this through surgery to repair the clavicle using a plate and screws. The scapular bone may also be fixed with this surgery. The devices will hold the bone in place as it heals.





  • Clavicle fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/management/clavicle-fracture-emergency-management.
  • Shoulder trauma (fractures and dislocations). Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/shoulder-trauma-fractures-and-dislocations.


  • Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.