What does a shoulder separation actually mean?

Impingement

The term “acromioclavicular sprain” means that you have damaged the strong fibrous bands (ligaments) that hold the end of your collarbone (clavicle) to the tip of your shoulder blade (scapula). Another term sometimes used to describe this injury is “shoulder separation.” 40-50% of all athletic shoulder injuries involve the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. AC injuries are common in adolescents and young adults who participate in contact sports, like hockey and football. Males are affected five times more often than females.

Injuries may range from mild fraying of a single ligament to complete rupture of all of the supporting ligaments. Significant tears can allow your collarbone to move upward, out of its normal position, creating a raised bump under your skin. AC joint injuries are categorized (Grade 1-Grade 6) based upon the amount of damage. Grade 1 injuries are tender without joint separation. Grade 2 injuries may be accompanied by a slight separation of the joint. Grade 3 and above will show significant joint separation.

Injuries typically occur following a fall onto the point of your shoulder, while your arm is at your side, or by falling onto your outstretched hand. You will most likely feel pain and swelling on the very top of your shoulder. More significant injuries may produce bruising or a visible “bump” beneath the skin. Moving your shoulder will likely be painfully limited for a while.

Your treatment will vary, depending upon the severity of your injury. Grade 1, 2, and most Grade 3 injuries are best managed conservatively. A sling may be used only when needed to control painful movements. Initially, you will need to limit activity, especially reaching overhead, behind your back, or across your body. The exercises described below are an important part of your rehab and should be performed consistently to avoid long-term problems. Using an ice pack for 10-15 minutes each hour may help to limit swelling and pain.

Some mild separations will heal by themselves within a week or two. More significant injuries can take longer, and disabilities typically range between one and eight weeks. Patients who have suffered a significant amount of ligament damage may have a permanent bump on their shoulder, regardless of treatment. This bump does not usually cause ongoing problems.

If you or someone you know suffers from this condition, call our office today. Our doctors are experts at relieving many types of pain including shoulder injuries.

AC Joint

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