The acromioclavicular joint, also known as the AC joint, is where the collarbone attaches to the top of the shoulder. The joint is important for shoulder motion and strength. When the supporting structures of the AC joint are injured, instability and pain result. AC joint injury is also referred to as “shoulder separation.”
What causes it?
AC joint injuries are often related to a fall that damages the stabilizing ligaments that surround the joint, or the lifting of heavy objects. This kind of severe trauma can result in the tearing of the ligaments and the development of a bulge above the shoulder created by the separation.
Unlike an acute injury, osteoarthritis (wear and tear arthritis) of the AC joint will develop slowly, through overuse.
How do you know you have it?
Symptoms of an AC joint injury are:
- Pain at the top of the shoulder
- Pain lifting the arm up to the side/across the front of the body
- Shoulder tightness
- Loss of motion
- A noticeable bump
Risk factors include:
- Taking part in activities where you are prone to falling (skiing, mountain biking)
- Participation in contact sports
- Physically demanding occupations
How we fix it
OSI upper extremity specialists are here to listen, discuss your concerns, and examine you for signs and symptoms of AC joint injury. Under our expert care, the following can determine 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 deformity is present.
- Imaging: An X-ray can confirm a diagnosis when deformity is not significant.
Conservative treatment approaches for an AC joint injury include:
- Immobilization (sling)
Surgery can be considered for persistent pain or severe deformity. Whether treated conservatively or surgically, rehabilitation to restore and rebuild motion and strength will be required. Most return to near full function with this injury.