Shoulder Separation (AC Joint Separation)

Shoulder separation is a painful condition that occurs where the acromion joint in the shoulder stretches or tears, moving the bones out of position.

What You Need To Know About Shoulder Separation

What is Shoulder Separation?

The AC joint is where the clavicle (or collarbone) and the scapula (the shoulder blade) meet. The joint, also called the acromion, connects the upper arm bone (or humerus) and the clavicle with a series of ligaments. This anatomy allows for free and easy movement of the shoulder.

Shoulder separation, or AC joint separation, occurs when the clavicle and the scapula pull away from each other, damaging the tendons that connect them. This can cause the bones to move out of place, and cause your shoulder blade to move downward from the weight of the arm.

Separated shoulder symptoms can be painful and debilitating. Get moving again by scheduling an appointment with a Resurgens Orthopaedics shoulder physician.

What Causes Shoulder Separation?

A separated shoulder is usually a result of direct trauma to the AC joint. This can happen when falling onto the shoulder or taking a blow to the shoulder. This condition is common among athletes and those who participate in contact sports, such as football, hockey, downhill skiing, gymnastics, and volleyball.

You may have an increased risk for a separated shoulder if you live an active lifestyle or if you have a job that requires heavy physical activity. Sports injuries and car accidents are common causes of AC joint separation.

Shoulder Separation Symptoms

Separated shoulder symptoms usually begin with sudden shoulder pain, likely caused by a direct blow. The top part of the shoulder may have a large bump or appear deformed.

Some other typical shoulder separation symptoms are:

  • Pain and swelling at the top of the shoulder.

  • Deformity of the shoulder.

  • Weakness

  • Tenderness

  • Limited range of motion.

How is Shoulder Separation Diagnosed?

In order to diagnose a separated shoulder, your Resurgens shoulder physician will discuss your medical history, lifestyle, and how the condition developed. Next, they will do a physical exam to check your pain levels and range of motion. The physical examination is brief and will only cause some slight discomfort.

Once you've completed the physical exam, your doctor will order diagnostic imaging such as x-rays or MRI scans. Using this information, they can rule out other possible conditions and give you a formal diagnosis. Then, your physician will talk to you about separated shoulder treatment options and discuss which treatment plan is right for you.

Shoulder Separation Treatment

There are many non-surgical and surgical options available for separated shoulder treatment. Mild or moderate AC joint separations can be healed with non-surgical methods, while extreme separations may need surgical treatment.

Non-Surgical Treatment

There are several types of non-surgical separated shoulder treatment, like:

  • Immobilizing the arm with a sling

  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories for pain management

  • RICE therapy

  • Physical therapy

Surgical Treatment

If non-surgical treatment options have failed to heal a separated shoulder, surgery may be necessary to restore the AC joint. Surgical separated shoulder treatments include:

  • Removing the end of the clavicle to prevent it from rubbing against the shoulder blade.

  • Reconnecting the torn ligaments underneath the clavicle.

Every patient is different, so we create a separated shoulder treatment plan for your specific condition.

If you are experiencing debilitating pain in your shoulder, schedule an appointment with a Resurgens shoulder physician today.

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