Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention


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 the Shoulder

shoulder anatomy
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Floating shoulder injuries are typically caused by severe trauma like what 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.

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
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Risk Factors

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


Symptoms may include:

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


You will be asked 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.

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


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:


A doctor may choose to use a sling or shoulder immobilizer. If this is the case, you can expect to be in a sling or immobilizer for one to two months. Your doctor may suggest physical therapy to maintain shoulder range of motion.


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


After surgery, your doctor will have you work with a therapist. The therapy will focus on regaining strength and range of motion to your shoulder.


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