Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) is a type of surgery used to stabilize and heal a broken bone. You might need this procedure to treat your broken collarbone (clavicle).
The clavicle is a long thin bone located between your ribcage (sternum) and the shoulder blade (scapula). It is the bone that connects the arm to the body. It is also called the collarbone. Different kinds of injury can damage this bone, causing it to break (fracture) into 2 or more pieces. Most often, this happens along the middle of the bone. In some cases the bone breaks near where it attaches to the ribcage. Or near where it attaches to the shoulder blade.
In certain types of clavicle fractures, your clavicle has broken, but its pieces still line up correctly. In other types of fractures (displaced fractures), the injury moves the bone fragments out of alignment.
If you fracture your clavicle, you might need ORIF to bring your bones back into place and help them heal. During an open reduction, orthopedic surgeons reposition your bone pieces surgically back into their correct alignment. In a closed reduction, a doctor physically moves the bones back into place without surgically exposing the bone.
Internal fixation is the method of physically reconnecting the bones. This method uses special screws, plates, wires, or nails to position the bones correctly. This prevents the bones from healing abnormally. The entire procedure often takes place while you are asleep under general anesthesia.
Certain health conditions may make fracturing your clavicle more likely. For example, having weak, brittle bones (osteoporosis) increases the risk of clavicle fracture in many older adults.
You may fracture your clavicle from a direct blow to the shoulder. This can happen while playing a sport or if you're in a motor vehicle accident. Falling on an outstretched arm may also fracture a clavicle. In some cases, a newborn baby will fracture the clavicle during birth.
Not everyone with a fractured clavicle needs ORIF. In fact, most people don’t. If possible, your doctor will treat your clavicle fracture with more conservative treatments. This means treatments other than surgery. These include pain medicines, splints, and slings.
You likely won’t need ORIF unless there is some reason your fracture might not heal normally with these conservative treatments. You may need ORIF if:
The pieces of your clavicle are significantly out of alignment
Your clavicle broke through the skin, or looks like it may break through
Your clavicle broke into several pieces
In these cases, ORIF can position your bones back into their correct alignment. This greatly increases the chance that your bone will heal correctly. In some cases, you might opt not to have ORIF even if your clavicle is significantly out of alignment. That's because the bone often heals correctly on its own. Your provider can talk with you about the risks and benefits of ORIF. Or they can discuss other, more conservative treatments for your situation.
Most people do very well with ORIF for their clavicle fracture. But some rare complications do sometimes occur. Possible complications include:
Broken screws or plates
Artery or vein damage
Bone misalignment or failure to heal
Complications from anesthesia
There is also a risk that the fracture won’t heal correctly, and you’ll need repeat surgery.
Your own risk of complications may vary according to your age, the anatomy of your clavicle fracture, and your other health conditions. For instance, people with low bone mass or diabetes may be at higher risk of complications. Being a smoker may also increase your risk. Ask your provider about the risks that most apply to you.
ORIF often takes place as an emergency or urgent procedure. Before your procedure, a healthcare provider will take your health history and do a physical exam. You’ll need an X-ray of your clavicle. Tell your doctor about all the medicines you take, including over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin. Also let your doctor know the last time you ate.
In some cases, your doctors might do your ORIF as a planned procedure. If this is the case, talk with your doctor about how to get ready for the procedure. Ask if you should stop taking any medicines ahead of time, such as blood thinners. Follow any directions you are given for not eating or drinking before your procedure.
Your surgeon can help explain the details of your particular surgery. The details of your surgery will depend on the location and severity of your injury. An orthopedic surgeon with a team of specialized healthcare providers will do the procedure. The whole procedure may take a couple of hours. In general, you can expect the following:
You will receive general anesthesia to make you sleep through the surgery so that you won’t feel any pain or discomfort. (Or you may receive local anesthesia and a medicine to help you relax.)
A healthcare professional will carefully watch your vital signs during the surgery. This includes your heart rate and blood pressure. You may have a breathing tube placed down your throat during the surgery to help you breathe.
After cleaning the affected area, your surgeon will make a cut (incision) through the skin and muscle near your clavicle.
Your surgeon will bring the pieces of your clavicle back into alignment ( reduction).
Next, your surgeon will secure the pieces of clavicle to each other ( fixation). To do this, they may use screws, metal plates, wires, or pins. (Ask what the surgeon will use in your case.)
Your surgeon may make other needed repairs.
After the team has secured the bone, your surgeon will surgically close the layers of skin and muscle around your clavicle.
Talk with your surgeon about what you can expect after your surgery. You will have some pain after your procedure. But pain medicine may help to reduce the pain. You should be able to go back to a normal diet fairly quickly. You will likely need an imaging procedure, such as an X-ray, to make sure that your surgery was successful. Depending on the extent of your injury and your other health conditions, you may be able to go home the same day.
For a while after your surgery, you’ll need to keep your arm immobile. Often this means that you will need to wear your arm in a sling for several weeks. You’ll get instructions about how you can move your arm.
Your doctor might give you other instructions about caring for your clavicle, such as applying ice. Follow all your doctor’s instructions carefully. Your doctor might not want you to take certain over-the-counter medicine for pain. That's because some of these can interfere with bone healing. Your doctor may advise you to eat a diet high in calcium and vitamin D as your bone heals.
You might have some fluid draining from your incision. This is normal. Let your doctor know right away if:
You see an increase in redness, swelling, or draining from your incision
You have a high fever or chills
You have severe pain
You have loss of feeling anywhere in your body
Keep all of your follow-up appointments. You may need to have your stitches or staples removed a week or so after your surgery.
At some point, you may need physical therapy to restore strength and flexibility to your muscles. Doing your exercises as prescribed can improve your chances of a full recovery. Most people are able to return to all their normal activities in a few months.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know:
The name of the test or procedure
The reason you are having the test or procedure
What results to expect and what they mean
The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
What the possible side effects or complications are
When and where you are to have the test or procedure
Who will do the test or procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
What would happen if you did not have the test or procedure
Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
When and how will you get the results
Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or problems
How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure