Recently, I received some inquires about updates on my recovery from my collarbone fracture, plate install, and hardware removal surgery. So, I am very happy my post somehow found its way into the hands of people wondering the same things I was. The decision-making process on which treatment option to pursue is challenging. And after, there is less information on what to do if you decide to put the common plate repair in. So while there is a lot of information on the web, I did not find the type of information I was seeking on the efficacy of treatment options for one of the most common bone fractures people experience. Just know that you need to give it time to repair itself and that a successful recovery does await you – as slow and painful as it may seem today.
My entire story is here:
Below are some questions and answers that have been emailed to me.
How can the doctors tell when the bone is fully healed and safe enough for the plate to be removed?
The doctors will recommend that you do not get your plate removed until after nine months following your surgery. After your surgery, and during your routine check-ups, you will see the bone healing in your x-rays. As the bone heals, you will see it get fuzzy around the break, then a white calcified webbing forming over and around the break.
What type of discomfort did you experience with your plate and did this disappear after you had the plate removed? (I’m getting a feeling of tenderness and pain around the collarbone, but have unfortunately also gotten frozen shoulder, so not sure which is causing the pain)
My experience was such that I felt an overall uncomfortable feeling in the area. I did not like the feeling of the plate against my skin. I did not like the nerve – and I could not foresee how a backpack between the skin and the plate was a possibility. I thought the plate was causing stiffness but I realize now that was the frozen shoulder setting in. Sorry to hear you have frozen shoulder – the PT associated with getting movement back sucks. I still have tenderness even with the plate removed, but that tenderness is lessening and having the plate out feels great.
I can’t tolerate straps or rucksacks on that shoulder at all, although it is only 2 months since the surgery. How did you find carrying bags on your shoulder before and after you had the plate removed?
Two months out of surgery is really fresh. Give it time. The one thing I have learned is you must give your body time to heal. That said, what you are describing was my principal reason for getting the plate out. I like to backpack and I didn’t see that happening with the plate in. The discomfort from the screws, skin, and shoulder strap isn’t something I wanted to be dealing with in life. I also did not want to deal with the temperature variability you can get, i.e., the plate gets cold in frozen conditions.
Have you had any further x-rays, to see if the screw holes have filled in? I’m wondering how long this takes and whether the bone is ever as strong as before the break.
I did not go back to my doctor after the plate was removed. My shoulder felt so much better, and I knew the screw holes would heal with time having just watched the entire bone grow back together over nine months. So, you will get a good idea of how bone grows with your doctor over the first six months. My guess is by three months, the holes are filled completely. And as far as bone strength goes, supposedly the collarbone is stronger than before because the scar tissue from the break creates a webbing around the break. This webbing creates a stronger bone, but you probably lose flexibility with the bone as therefore the bone (while stronger) may be more susceptible to another break because of its rigid structure.
How long did it take for you to recover from your second surgery?
That recovery was fast. I did not take any pain killers after the surgery, and the wound healed extremely fast. My surgeon told me that the recovery from the second surgery would be 1/10 of the first. He was correct.
Does your shoulder still feel sore compared to before you broke your collarbone? Have you had any further problems?
I am 1.5 years out, and I still have some tenderness in certain spots along the collarbone. I don’t like people to touch me or grab my neck/collarbone area. And I still have some nerve damage in the skin near the incision – but that has been improving. Apparently, for some people this returns to normal or near-normal and for others, it never repairs. Today, I am now back at the gym working hard to gain back the muscle mass I lost. When I work out, I get some of the frozen shoulder stiffness back – but it’s not a big deal.
Were you able to recover from the Frozen Shoulder?
Yes. I made progress against this with the help of my physical therapist. This was the absolute worst part of the recovery. I do believe that removing the plate allowed my shoulder to improve its healing and recover better from the frozen shoulder. The key is to be patient.
I just had my stitches removed from my second surgery and am anxious to get back on my workout but the doc told me to not lift anything heavy nor do any push-ups for at least 2 months. What was your experience getting back to working out, and how long did it take for your bones to fill-in?
I believe you should get back into the gym – doing light weights, stretching, and working on range of motion. And as your muscles get warmed up, over a few weeks, begin to go heavier. Bodyweight exercises like push-ups make a lot of sense to me. I use my body as a guide, if it hurts I stop. In eight weeks the screws holes are clearly filled in – but you don’t have to wait that long to start working out. I would not get on the bike or do anything that could result in a crash. And don’t load up 225 lbs on the bench press and start doing reps. But in the grand scheme of things, motion is lotion and with the plate out, things really feel better to get moving.