Sports-related stress fracture of the clavicle: a case report

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  • Sports-related stress fracture of the clavicle: a case reportJ. Roset-Llobet, J.M. Sal-OrfilaDepartment of Orthopaedic Surgery and Traumatology, Hospital General de Manresa, Barcelona, Spain

    &misc:Accepted: 30 November 1997

    &p.1:Summary. Stress fracture of the clavicle is extremelyrare, even in sports medicine. The authors have treat-ed a young man who, for several years practised atraditional physical activity in which groups of peo-ple make human towers by standing on each othersshoulders. For the last three years the patient experi-enced pain in the medial aspect of the right claviclewhen he increased the intensity of his training. Bonescintigraphy revealed endosteal thickening which wasindicative of a stress reaction. The mechanism of in-jury, the diagnosis of stress fracture, and a review ofthe literature are presented.

    &p.1:Rsum. Les fractures par stress de la claviculesont une pathologie extrmement rare, mme chez lessportifs. Les auteurs presentent un cas sur un junehomme qui a pratiqu un sport traditionnel pendantplusieurs annes, consistant, pour un groupe de gensde faire une tour humanine en sappuyant lun surlpaule de lautre. Pendant les trois derniers annsle patient a mal au tiers moyen de la clavicule droitelorsquil intensifie son entranement, et de douleursarrte a lissue de la sance athltique. Quand il at vu a lHpital, on a confirm une raction destress avec une scintigraphie positive et une con-densation endoste. Nous prcisons le mcanisme dutraumatisme, le diagnostic de fracture de fatique, etprsentons une rvision bibliographique.


    Stress fracture and stress reaction are overuse prob-lems that, in athletes, usually occur in the lower

    limbs. Although this type of lesion has been infre-quently described in other locations such as the ster-num [18], first rib [2, 12, 15, 19, 21], humerus [1,29], ulna [3, 23], tip of the olecranon [9, 22], acromi-

    Resprint requests to: J. Roset-Llobet, Servei de COT, HospitalGeneral de Manresa, E-08240 Manresa, Barcelona, Spain &/fn-block:

    International Orthopaedics (SICOT) (1998) 22:266268

    Springer-Verlag 1998

    Fig. 1. The human tower; a traditional Catalan physical activity&/fig.c:

  • J. Roset-Llobet and J.M. Sal-Orfila: Sports-related stress fracture of the clavicle 267

    um [13] and the coracoid process of the scapula [4, 8,30], stress fracture of the clavicle has been reportedonly during surgery [7, 11, 25], in the absence ofstrenuous athletic activity [17, 26], or in poorly docu-mented cases [27].

    Case report

    A 26-year-old man with a history of three years of clavicularpain had been engaged in a traditional Catalan sport for theprevious six years. In this activity, teams of athletes make hu-man towers with up to nine levels, each standing on the shoul-ders of the level below them (Fig. 1).

    The first symptoms appeared at the end of the 1993 athleticseason, during which he had rapidly increased his training in-sensity. He presented with a gradual onset of pain which hadprogressively worsened with activity. At that point physicalexamination and plain radiographs were absolutely normal(Fig. 2). The pain disappeared during the winter off-season,and slowly began to recur in a mild form when training com-menced. Thereafter, during a normal rotation movement of the

    shoulder, he experienced acute clavicular pain which lasted fortwo weeks. He was seen in our hospital three months later, atthe end of the 1995 athletic season, when he reported signifi-cant pain that had forced him to decrease his level of activity.Physical examination revealed a small palpable mass andmarked localised tenderness at the middle third of the rightclavicle. There was no oedema or erythema, and no clinicalevidence of periosteal thickening. Anteroposterior radiographsof the right clavicle showed cortical hyperostosis and sclero-sis; the contralateral side was normal (Fig. 3). Conventionaltomography and computerised tomography demonstrated thesame hyperostosis but there was no visible fracture. Full bloodcount, ESR, and biochemical screening were normal. Bonescintigraphy revealed a distinct fracture line in the delayed im-age phase; the blood pool phase was slightly positive while theangiogram phase was negative (Fig. 4).

    A stress fracture of the clavicle was suspected and ortho-paedic protection of the shoulder and clavicle was provided.The athlete is now asymptomatic and in full training.


    Bone scintigraphy (bone scan) is 100% sensitive,with no false negatives, but it is not very specific forthe differentiation of a stress fracture or reaction fromother musculoskeletal abnormalities [28]. For thisreason, many aetiologies must be considered in thedifferential diagnosis following a positive result;these include osteitis, chronic osteomyelitis, osteoma,osteoid osteoma and osteoblastoma [5]. Other rareconditions such as syphilis, Pagets disease, or malig-nant neoplasms can be discounted as they are notconsistent with the evolution of the disorder and theresults of complementary investigations [10]. A sim-ple periosteal reaction also warrants consideration,but the clinical findings, the acute increase of the painwithout previous trauma and the scintigraphic find-ings of diffuse non-focal periosteal uptake, mild inintensity, along the bone [31] were not seen in our pa-tient. His scintigraphic appearances are suggestive ofa stress fracture even if the process was in a subacuteor healing phase [20]. A fracture was not detected byradiograph but it is known that up to 15% of patientswith a positive bone scan never show radiographicchanges [6]. A true fracture occurs only when the re-moval of the cortex is accelerated beyond the capaci-ty of the periosteal reaction to offer adequate rein-forcement. For this reason, the radiological demon-stration of a fracture line is not necessary for the di-agnosis of a stress fracture. In our patient, however,the bone was in the resolution phase and it wasdoubtful whether the changes represented a moder-ately severe stress reaction (Grade 23) of Jones clas-sification [16] or the subacute-healing phase as de-scribed by Martine [20]. We consider that the in-creased activity in the whole thickness of the clavicleand the distinct fracture line noted on delayed bonescan image were suggestive of a stress fracture in thehealing phase. Similar stress fractures of the ribs havebeen described by several authors [15, 19, 21].

    In the sport of human tower construction, the feetare placed at each side of the neck with the heels onthe trapezius muscles and the tarsal bones on the




    Fig. 2. Normal anteroposterior radiograph of the right clavicleat the onset of pain &/fig.c:Fig. 3. Anteroposterior radiograph of the right clavicle show-ing cortical hyperostosis and sclerosis &/fig.c:Fig. 4. Technetium-99m bone scan demonstrating a distinctfracture line on the delayed image

  • 268 J. Roset-Llobet and J.M. Sal-Orfila: Sports-related stress fracture of the clavicle

    13. Hall RJ, Calvert PT(1994) Stress fracture of the acromion:an unusual mechnism and review of the literature. J BoneJoint Surg [Br] 77:153154

    14. Harrington MA, Keller TS, Deiler JG et al. (1993) Geo-metric properties and the predicted mechanical behaviourof adult human clavicles. J Biomech 26:417426

    15. Holden DL, Jackson DW (1985) Stress fractures of theribs in female rowers. Am J Sports Med 13:342348

    16. Jones BH, Harris J, Vinh TN et al. (1989) Exercise-in-duced stress fractures and stress reaction of bone: epidemi-ology, aetiology and classification. In: Pandolf KB (ed)Exercise and sport sciences reviews. American College ofSports Medicine Series, vol 17:379472. Williams & Wil-kins, Baltimore

    17. Kaye JJ, Nance EP, Green NE (1982) Fatigue fracture ofthe medial aspect of the clavicles. An academic rather thanatletic injury. Radiology 144:8990

    18. Keating TM (1987) Stress fracture of the sternum in awrestler. Am J Sports Med 15:9293

    19. Lankenner PA, Micheli LJ (1985) Stress fracture of thefirst rib. A case report. J Bone Joint Surg [Am] 67:159160

    20. Martine JR (1987) The role of nuclear medicine bonescans in evaluating pain in athletic injuries. Clin SportsMed 15:4658

    21. McKenzie DC (1988) Stress fracture of the rib in an eliteoarsman. J Sports Med 10:220222

    22. Miller JE (1960) Javelin throwers elbow. J Bone JointSurg [Br] 42:788792

    23. Mutoh Y, Mori T, Suzuki Y et al. (1982) Stress fractures ofthe ulna in athletes. Am J Sports Med 10:365367

    24. Norfray JF, Tremaine MJ, Groves HG et al. (1977) Theclavicle in hockey. Am J Sports Med 5:275280

    25. Ord RA, Langdon JD (1986) Stress fracture of the clavi-cle. A rare late complication of radical neck dissection. JMaxillofac Surg 14:281284

    26. Paul R, Ahonen A, Virtama P et al. (1989) F-18 fluorode-oxyglucose: its potential in differentiating between stressfracture and neoplasia. Clin Nucl Med 14:906908

    27. Pizio Z, Tubek S (1992) Zmceczeniowe zlamanie ob-ojczyka (Stress fracture of the clavicle). Wiad-Lek 45:477479

    28. Prather JL, Nusynowitz ML, Snowdy HA et al. (1977)Scintigraphic findings in stress fractures. J Bone JointSurg [Am] 59:869874

    29. Rettig AC, Beltz HF (1985) Stress fracture in the humerusin an adolescent tennis tournament player. Am J SportsMed 13:5558

    30. Sandrock AR (1975) Stress fracture of the coracoid pro-cess of the scapula. Radiology 117:274

    31. Zwas ST, Elkanovitch R, Frank G (1987) Interpretationand classification of bone scintigraphic findings in stressfractures. J Nucl Med 28:452457

    clavicles. The weight pushes the clavicle down whilethe sternocleidomastoid, trapezius, pectoralis major,and deltoid muscles, as well as the coraclavicular andacromioclavicular ligaments, are pulled upon, stress-ing the point wher


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