AC Joint Separation

Definition

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is between the upper part of the shoulder blade and the collarbone. AC joint separation happens when the ligaments of this joint become damaged or torn. This causes a separation between the shoulder blade and the collarbone.

Shoulder Anatomy
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Causes

AC joint separation is caused by a trauma to the shoulder such as:

  • Falling directly onto the shoulder (most common cause)
  • Being hit on the point of the shoulder blade
  • Falling on an outstretched arm

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of getting an AC joint separation include:

  • Playing certain sports, such as football, hockey, or lacrosse
  • Sports that may involve falls like cycling, skiing, or gymnastics
  • Increased age

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Tenderness or pain over the joint
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • A popping sensation in the joint
  • A bump on the shoulder

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms, medical history, and related accident. A physical exam will be done. It may include range-of-motion tests of the shoulder. The diagnosis can be made when there is an obvious deformity of the joint.

Images may be taken of your shoulder. This can be done with x-rays .

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment depends on the degree of your AC joint separation. Options include:

Basic Support

A support, such as a sling, will be given to prevent the shoulder from moving and reduce pain as it heals. Applying an ice pack will also help reduce swelling and promote proper healing.

Your doctor may also advise over-the-counter or prescription pain medication.

Surgery

Surgery may be needed if the AC joint separation is severe. Surgical options include:

  • Trimming back the end of the collarbone so that it does not rub against the shoulder blade
  • Reconstructing the ligaments that attach to the underside of the collarbone

Rehabilitation

You may be referred to a physical therapist to learn exercises to strengthen and/or stabilize the area.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of AC joint separation, take these steps:

  • Do not put yourself at risk for trauma to the shoulder.
  • Exercise regularly to maintain strength, mobility, and to prevent falls.
  • Learn the proper technique and wear protective equipment for exercise and sporting activities.

To help reduce falling hazards at work and home, take these steps:

  • Clean spills and slippery areas right away.
  • Remove tripping hazards such as loose cords, rugs, and clutter.
  • Use non-slip mats in the bathtub and shower.
  • Install grab bars next to the toilet and shower or tub.
  • Put in handrails on both sides of the stairways.
  • Walk only in well-lit rooms, stairs, and halls.
  • Keep flashlights on hand in case of a power outage.

Revisions

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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

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