AC Joint

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The AC joint – also called the acromioclavicular joint – is located in the shoulder where the clavicle (collarbone) attaches to the shoulder blade (scapula). The joint is stabilized by ligaments,which can become injured in falls or direct blows. AC joint injuries respond to non-surgical treatment.

AC joint problems

Injuries such as sprain or separation of the AC joint can occur as a result of a direct blow to the outside of the shoulder or falling with the arm outstretched. These injuries typically happen during sports activities.

Injuries of the AC joint range from mild to severe. When the ligaments that attach the collarbone to the shoulder bone tear, a partial or complete shoulder separation can result causing instability and/or joint displacement.

The AC joint is also susceptible to degenerative changes caused by wear and tear on the joint or arthritis. As the cartilage in the joint wears away, it can cause joint pain and swelling. Eventually, bone spurs may form.

Symptoms of AC joint problems

Mild sprains of the ligaments surrounding the AC joint often result in shoulder separation without dislocation. Complete tears of the acromioclavicular ligament may involve the coracoclavicular(CC) ligament, too. Pain is the main symptom of AC joint injury and ranges from mild to severe depending on the extent of injury.

When both the AC and CC ligaments are completely torn, the AC joint can become severely displaced causing shoulder deformity.

Treatment of AC joint problems

Most AC joint injuries respond to conservation treatment therapies. If the injury is not severe, your orthopedic specialist may recommend wearing a sling for a week to 10 days, along with intermittent application of ice packs and medications for pain and inflammation. More severe injuries may require a more restrictive type of support device.

Surgical treatment is reserved for severe cases that require ligament repair and joint realignment. It may also be used to treat partial AC tears if pain persists for several months.

Arthritis of the AC joint usually responds to application of ice packs and anti-inflammatory medications.

Physical therapy may help in restoring motion to the AC joint and reducing the risk of future injury.


Orthopedic Surgeons

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