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What to Know about an AC Joint Injury

AC Joint injuries happen when the ligament that holds the acromioclavicular joint together at the top of the shoulder is torn or sprained. The injury can range from being very mild, a grade 1 with minor ligament damage and no bone separation, to severe, a grade 6 injury with complete ruptures of the ligaments and deformity that is clearly visible. It is vital to provide early treatment and support from the very beginning to avoid problems down the road, or even deformity of the shoulder. 

Symptoms to look out for include pain located at the top of the shoulder, right at the end of the collar bone. The pain will be noticeable worse when attempting to move the arm overhead, and often times a lump will begin to form.

Causes

AC joint injuries are caused when the joint is disrupted by damaged ligaments that hold the two bones of the joint together. This is called a separation of the shoulder.  This type of injury is most common in people who often sustain a fall by landing on the outside of the shoulder, or onto a hand (football players, falling bicyclists, or manual laborers often suffer these injuries.)

AC Joint injuries caused by overuse generally happens over time through repeated stress on the joints that that is overtly excessive. Because of this, protective cartilage can begin to wear down and after extended time, it may lead to an over use injury. This can also lead to arthritis, which is cause by severe wearing of the cartilage. Overuse injuries of the AC Joint often happen in individuals who perform physical tasks that require them to repeatedly do actions that involve stretching arms over the head.

Typical Treatment

The best immediate method of caring for an AC joint injury is to use rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This will help to reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to also wear a sling to help keep the shoulder from moving, and also remove the weight of the arm. Taking anti-inflammatory medicine is also helpful in reducing the pain. It’s important to follow through with physical therapy and careful treatment of the affected area to ensure proper healing, and reduce the chance of a long term deformity.

How to Prevent it

Although it’s hard to prevent sudden traumatic AC Joint injuries, it is completely possible to prevent the cases in which an AC joint injury is caused through overuse. It’s important to remember to never push through the pain, and intuitively listen to what your body is telling you. Be sure to also be conscious of the type of physical activity your work requires, especially overhead lifting that is continuous. Aim to maintain shoulder strength and build motion to be able to perform the tasks you want/need to. If you begin to feel pain, make sure to see your doctor or physical therapist if painful symptoms continue, or worsen. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you!