Should I be worried about my collarbone popping out?

Does your collarbone popping out of place represent a big problem, even if it doesn’t hurt? In this Ask Dr. Geier column, I answer that question for a reader who is really worried about what it means for him and his shoulder long-term.

Lars asks:
My left collarbone is popping out whenever I lift my arm over the head. It pops back in when I take my arm down. I had no accident or injury, and I have no pain so far. I saw two doctors, and they both have never seen this before. They only said “rest for a couple of weeks and it will heal”. After 3 months, I still have this problem. Should I be worried? I heard that the cartilage can wear down and I could have problems long term. I really want to go back to the gym, but currently I am too worried about damaging my sternoclavicular joint even more.
Thank you for your help.

Instability of the sternoclavicular joint can often result from a traumatic injury which leads to a dislocation of the clavicle in front of the sternum – an anterior sternoclavicular dislocation. Most of the time, the clavicle stays dislocated in front of the sternum, leading to a mild prominence on that side compared to the other, but it rarely causes any persistent problems. Occasionally people complain about the appearance and the bump, but they overcome the discomfort and weakness fairly quickly.

Occasionally a patient notices that the end of the clavicle pops back and forth, in and out of place, after a traumatic injury. In some cases where people have generalized ligamentous laxity, they might experience that popping in and out without an injury.

Usually, this instability is not a serious problem if it doesn’t limit their activities. In this video, I discuss how patients can improve the strength and function of their arm to try to deal with sternoclavicular instability. I also discuss the possible surgical options and explain the balance between risks and benefits when deciding if surgery is the best course of action.

Also read:
Ask Dr. Geier – Can surgery improve a cosmetic deformity of your shoulder?
Ask Dr. Geier – Distal clavicle osteolysis of the shoulder

Sternoclavicular (SC) joint
The sternoclavicular joint is the joint between the end of the clavicle and the sternum (white circle).

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