How Do You Treat a Sprained Sternoclavicular Joint?

Reviewed on 10/5/2022
An illustration of a man's chest and clavicle
Sprained sternoclavicular joint treatment may include medication, immobilization, avoiding activities that cause symptoms, and closed reduction. Sometimes surgery is necessary if symptoms don't improve.

The sternoclavicular joint is one of the shoulder joints, and is located where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the breastbone (sternum) at the base of the neck. Sprained sternoclavicular joint problems are not very common, but may result from injury and other disorders such as osteoarthritis.

7 treatments for a sprained sternoclavicular joint

Most of the time a sprained sternoclavicular joint is treated without surgery. Nonsurgical treatment for a sprained sternoclavicular joint may include:

  • Medication
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain and swelling 
    • Corticosteroids injected directly into the joint
  • Immobilization
    • Wearing a shoulder sling to restrict arm movement 
  • Avoiding activities that cause symptoms
  • Closed reduction
    • If a joint is dislocated, a doctor may attempt to manipulate the collarbone (clavicle) back into place in a procedure called a closed reduction

If nonsurgical methods are not sufficient, surgical treatment for a sprained sternoclavicular joint may include: 

  • Open reduction if there is a dislocation
  • Drainage if there is an infection
  • A procedure to remove bone from the arthritic and painful end of the clavicle 

What Are Symptoms of a Sprained Sternoclavicular Joint?

Symptom of a sprained sternoclavicular joint include: 

  • Pain in the area where the clavicle meets the sternum
  • Joint swelling
  • Bruising over the joint
  • Tenderness over the joint
  • Limited range of motion in the arm
  • Crunching or grinding sound when moving the arm
  • If pain is due to another inflammatory condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis, there may be pain in other joints in the body
  • If there is a joint infection, symptoms may also include: 

What Causes a Sprained Sternoclavicular Joint?

The most common causes of a sprained sternoclavicular joint include:

  • Injuries, usually caused by some type of high-impact event, such as:
    • Motor vehicle accident
    • Collision or hard fall during a contact sport such as football or rugby
  • Osteoarthritis, which is a degenerative condition
    • Frequently occurs in people 50 years of age and older
    • The smooth articular cartilage that covers the sternoclavicular joint gradually wears away and the protective space between the bones decreases, which can result in painful bone rubbing on bone 
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Infection
  • Subluxation
    • A slight movement or popping of the bone out of place even without some type of trauma
    • Generally limited to those people who are considered “loose jointed”

How Is a Sprained Sternoclavicular Joint Diagnosed?

A sprained sternoclavicular joint is diagnosed with a patient history, including a history of injury or accident, and a physical examination of the shoulder area to look for visible signs of deformity or a bump over the joint, swelling, bruising, or redness, and to assess range of motion of the arm. 

Imaging tests may be needed to evaluate the injury and to help differentiate a sprain from a dislocation or a fracture, such as: 

Reviewed on 10/5/2022

Image sources: iStock Images