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AC Joint Injury

The acromioclavicular joint, also known as the AC joint, is where the collarbone attaches to the top of the shoulder, and it’s vital for shoulder motion and strength. This injury is also known as “shoulder separation.” When the supporting structures of the AC joint are injured, instability and pain result.

What causes an AC Joint Injury?

AC joint injuries are often related to a fall that damages the stabilizing ligaments that surround the joint. An AC joint injury can also happen when lifting heavy objects. Any type of sudden motion that could tear the ligament could cause an AC injury, including a bulge above the shoulder created by the separation. Unlike what happens with an acute injury, osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis) of the AC joint will develop slowly due to overuse.

Certain risk factors are associated with acute AC joint injuries. They include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Taking part in activities where you are prone to falling (skiing, mountain biking)
  • Participation in contact sports
  • Physically demanding occupations

How do you know you have an AC Joint Injury?

Symptoms of an AC joint injury are:

  • Pain at the top of the shoulder
  • Swelling
  • Pain lifting the arm up to the side/across the front of the body
  • Shoulder tightness
  • Loss of motion
  • A noticeable bump

How does OSI fix an AC Joint Injury

An OSI shoulder specialist will examine you for signs and symptoms of an AC joint injury. You can expect one or all of the following to be done in order to determine the extent of the AC joint injury and the best course of treatment:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will begin with a consultation to understand your symptoms and medical history, followed by a full physical examination. The injury is easy to identify when the deformity is present.
  • X-Ray: An X-ray can confirm a diagnosis when the deformity is not significant.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Conservative treatment approaches for an AC joint injury include:

  • Medications
  • Icing
  • The use of a sling to immobilize the shoulder joint

Surgical Treatment

Your OSI physician may consider AC joint surgery for persistent pain or severe deformity. Whether treated conservatively or surgically, rehabilitation to restore and rebuild motion and strength will be required. Rehabilitation services are located right at OSI, so it is not only convenient but also under the watchful eye of your OSI orthopedic surgeon. Most return to near full function after this injury.