Floating Shoulder



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 anatomy
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This injury is caused by trauma from:

  • Motor vehicle or bike accidents
  • Falls
  • Being shot with a gun
  • Crushing of the shoulder
Shoulder Injury During Car Crash
car accident shoulder injury
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this injury 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 your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. Your shoulder will be checked. You may need to see a doctor who treats bones.

Images may be taken of your shoulder. This can be done with:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan



The problem is treated based on the level of injury. Options are:

Initial Care

Initial care may be:

  • Ice to ease pain and swelling
  • Medicine to ease pain
  • A sling or shoulder immobilizer to keep the shoulder in place as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength and motion


The clavicle may be repaired with surgery using a plate and screws. The scapular bone may also be fixed with surgery. A sling or shoulder immobilizer will be used to keep the shoulder in place.


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

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.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.

a (Ipsilateral Fractures of the Clavicle and Scapular Neck)


American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine http://www.sportsmed.org 

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons http://orthoinfo.aaos.org 


Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians http://www.caep.ca 

Trauma Association of Canada http://www.traumacanada.org 


Clavicle fracture—emergency management. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:  https://www.dynamed.com/management/clavicle-fracture-emergency-management/ . Accessed September 20, 2019.

Kim W, McKee MD. Management of acute clavicle fractures. Orthop Clin North Am. 2008 Oct;39(4):491-505.

Questions and answers about shoulder problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/shoulder-problems. Updated April 2014. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Shoulder trauma (fractures and dislocations). Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00394. Updated September 2007. Accessed September 20, 2019.