Dear Dr. Roach: I am a healthy 71-year-old man. I broke my collarbone in the middle. I was told the bone should stop moving and heal in four to six weeks. More than six weeks have passed. There has been slow but steady progress in moving my arm, but the bone is still moving. I have been told that I should start to consider an operation if it is still moving in a few more weeks.
Am I doing something wrong? I move my arm around quite a bit, but I stop anytime there is pain. Is it possible that I am moving my arm too much? I wore a sling for the first few weeks.
What is the longest amount of time I should wait before considering an operation? I am very reluctant to have an operation, and would gladly wait six months if there was any hope that the bone would heal itself.
Dear R.R.: Fractures of the clavicle (collarbone) are common, and the most common is the middle third of the clavicle. Many times, these will heal by themselves. Six weeks may not be enough time for it to heal; however, if it hasn’t healed by 12-16 weeks, it is likely to need surgery to heal properly.
A sling is used usually until the bone has healed — that is, until the point of the fracture isn’t tender and you can move your arm fully, with minimal discomfort. I would check back with your orthopedic surgeon about whether to get back in your sling or even a more restrictive bandage.
Dear Dr. Roach: I have lower-back ache. Would yoga help?
Dear A.: Yoga does help many people with back pain, but it’s important to find an instructor with experience with beginners and in using yoga specifically for back pain. Similarly, tai chi and Pilates exercises have been shown to be useful treatments for back pain.
Email questions to ToYourGoodHealth@med.cornell.edu.