AC Joint Separation

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.

  • 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

  • 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
    IMAGE
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  • 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 .

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Treatment

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