Six weeks ago, I fractured my shoulder in four places in a bicycle accident. It was a miserable break, requiring morphine in the ER. Now, six weeks later, x-rays reveal that the bone is healed, and the sling-and-swath device can come off! If you have broken your shoulder and wonder what to do to make things better for yourself, try these top 10 tips for surviving a shoulder fracture.

1. Move the recliner into your bedroom.
You’re going to have to sleep basically sitting up, and the most comfortable way to do that is to sleep in a recliner. Through the grace of God, my parents had just given us a recliner a few days before the accident. My husband made it into a “bed” by covering it with a sheet and a light comforter, and I slept there for the entire six weeks that my shoulder was healing. I kept different pillows handy to help prop up my body where needed. I also kept an ice bag nearby to reduce swelling and plugged in a heating pad by the recliner to help relieve muscle pain.

2. Take pain relievers as prescribed until no longer needed.
The doctor prescribed Hydrocodone APAP to use at home for pain. I took it for 11 days, until I felt I could get by okay without it. There’s no need to play the hero by going without pain meds! Powerful narcotic analgesics, such as Hydrocodone, can be habit forming if taken for several weeks, but I didn’t have any trouble weaning myself off of it. You might feel a bit lightheaded and dizzy from the medication, but it’s a lot better that suffering in agony!

3. Drink LOTS of water.
Your body needs water in a big way right now! The body is protecting and surrounding the injury with fluid, rushing nutrients to the affected areas, and processing dead cells and byproducts of healing. All of these activities require a supply of fresh water for maximum efficiency. Also, narcotic painkillers tend to cause constipation unless you drink plenty of water and eat fiber-rich foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables.

4. Don’t be too proud (or modest) to ask for help with personal care.
Everyone likes being independent and capable, but right now you need to accept your limitations and seek help. For the first two weeks, it was too painful even to attempt to wash myself. Instead, either my husband or my daughters gave me sponge baths and washed my hair when needed. By week three, I was able to sit in a couple of inches of water in the bathtub, wearing a spare sling-and-swath, but I still needed help to wash. By week five, I could stand in a shower, still wearing the sling-and-swath, and wash myself one-handed. You won’t be able to shave your armpit for at least a month, but just getting cleaned up and sweet-smelling will make you feel better!

5. Switch to an easy-care haircut.
After a few weeks, I went to the hairdresser and got a shag haircut that I could blow-dry one-handed. I really enjoyed the emerging independence of being able to style my own hair!

6. Invest in devices that will help you to do one-handed what you used to do with two.
For example, we bought an electric can opener that would allow me to open cans with one hand. Because I could no longer use two hands to floss my teeth, we bought “dental flossers” that that I could used one-handed. They look kind of like little plastic swords on one end with a short stretch of tooth floss on the other end. I bought Plackers brand dental flossers– “gentle FINE: Perfect for Tight Teeth” with “New improved super tuffloss–Engineered not to shred or break during use–The same fiber used to make bulletproof vests.” I like these dental flossers so much that I’m going to continue to use them even now that my shoulder has healed.

7. Prepare for the “itch.”
The bruising and swelling that is normal for shoulder breaks will eventually start going down, and when it does, it’s going to itch like crazy! I tried several ways to relieve the itch, but here’s what worked: 1) Dry brush massage, using strokes in the direction of the heart, 2) Drinking a big glass of water, 3) Herbal tea with non-acidic Vitamin C powder, and 4) Applying Aveeno Daily Moisturizing Lotion to the arms, shoulder, chest and abdomen, which all itched beyond belief. I would wake up in the middle of the night tortured by the itching! However, once I figured out this routine, I could get the itching to stop completely within an hour or less, and then go back to sleep.

8. Exercise any way you can.
Before I broke my shoulder, I used to exercise by running, bicycling, belly dancing, and weight training, as well as stretching, sculpting, and aerobic workouts with Kathy Smith and Margaret Richard DVD’s at home. While the fracture healed, my exercise routine had to change, but it didn’t disappear completely! My usual routine (after the first two weeks) was: walking slow and easy, stationary biking, stretching, and modified belly dancing–isolated to just the lower body. It wasn’t what I was I was used to, but it was better than moping and laying around all day. Exercise can really lift your spirits, even when you’re recovering from an injury.

9. Eat a balanced diet that includes the recommended amount of calcium, and consider taking supplements that provide nutrients for bone-building. For a quick listing of great foods for encouraging bone health, check out my article, “Top 10 Bone-Building Foods.” For a more extensive listing, see the “Foundations” category of this website. As for supplements, I’ve been drinking a concoction that I fondly call “Bone Cocktail,” which is made of these ingredients from Eniva Corporation: 1 oz. Cell-Ready Minerals + 1 oz. Cell-Ready Cal-Mag (Calcium-Magnesium) + 1 oz. Cell-Ready Strontium + 2 oz. of pomegranate juice + 8 oz. water. For a complete listing of the supplements I take to reverse osteoporosis and build bone density, check out my article, “What I’m Taking Now and Why.”

10. Celebrate every step toward healing!
There are certain stages of healing that are common to the majority of shoulder fractures. As you reach each of these milestones, celebrate your progress and give thanks for your continued healing!

Initial treatment at the ER

Initial visit to the orthopedic doctor

Discontinuing prescription pain medication

Permission to begin extending and flexing the forearm while holding the elbow

Permission to bend at the waist and allow arm to hang and to rotate passively in a circle

Permission to begin passive movement of the shoulder area by having a friend or family member move the forearm to the front, back, and side.

Permission to remove the sling-and-swath and begin formal physical therapy.

This last step is where I am right now. In fact, my first appointment for physical therapy is at 4:30 this afternoon. I have been warned to expect major pain. This is one of those circumstances where it really is “no pain, no gain.” I’ll let you know what happens!

Bonus Tip: Yes, you can still have sex with a shoulder fracture!
Your partner is going to have to be v-e-r-y gentle and careful of your injury, but it’s wonderfully consoling and strengthening to enjoy that special closeness at a time when you are struggling in other areas of life. Having several pillows handy can be helpful in finding a comfortable position for lovemaking. Note: Ladies, don’t expect your body to experience orgasm while it is tense with pain and discomfort, but you can still enjoy your husband’s tenderness and affection, even if you don’t climax. And don’t worry: As your injury heals, your sexual responsiveness will return. :-)

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454 Comments on Top 10 Tips for Surviving a Shoulder Fracture

  1. Kathy says:

    Oh, and Nancy, here’s a strange thing you might try to see if it helps you sleep. You could try hugging a warm heating pad–not on the fracture area–but just hugging it to your chest. I have been amazed how that has helped me sleep when nothing else would work. Please let me know if it makes a difference.

  2. Nancy says:

    Thanks Kathy I will try that.

  3. Maria says:

    It is now 7 1/2 weeks since I badly fractured my shoulder.
    I never imagined the pain would lessen as much as it has, it is amazing! I started VERY gentle rotation type excercises right from the very start, at 3 weeks the physio got me doing some more intense excercises which were so painful and I wondered if I was doing it correctly, after a little while the excercises became less painful.
    I have returned to my own bed, (slept in the spare room with oodles of pillows), cannot sleep on my shoulder yet but my sleep is improving.
    Today I even managed to hang out some washing on the line.
    For those of you reading this in the early stages of breaking your shoulder…believe me it DOES get better.

  4. Fi says:

    Hi more to join the merry band comminuted fracture 5 days ago! I fell off my bicycle on Sunday morning in future will have a lie in and breakfast in bed like normal people ha!!! Due check x-Ray and possible surgical intervention on Monday not sure I really want it! I have a couple of questions 1 Does anyone know if NSAIDs slow the rate of bone healing? 2 Does your shoulder shape change significantly? I appear to have lost the shoulder it’s just a steep downward slope!! Does the shape return once PT gets underway. Prepared for a long recovery full of ups and downs. Hope everyone else is bearing up through their recovery

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