Accessibility Tools

What is a shoulder joint separation?

Despite its name, a shoulder joint separation injury doesn’t affect the shoulder joint itself. Instead, it affects the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which is located at the point where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the highest part of the shoulder blade (acromion). After a fall onto an outstretched hand, a sharp twist of the arm or a direct blow to the shoulder, the ligaments that connect the clavicle to the acromion can rupture. The damage can range from a mild sprain to moderate tissue fraying to a complete ligament tear. While a shoulder joint separation differs from a shoulder dislocation, which occurs when the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket, both injuries are commonly sustained during contact sports, such as football and hockey.

What does a shoulder joint separation feel like?

The symptoms of a shoulder joint separation may include:

  • Pain, tenderness, swelling and bruising around the shoulder joint
  • Arm muscle weakness
  • A “popping” sound during shoulder movement
  • A visible bump at the site of the injury (if the collarbone is no longer anchored securely to the shoulder blade, it may move out of its proper position and push against the skin near the top of the shoulder)

How is a shoulder joint separation treated?

Nonsurgical treatment is often effective for reducing the pain and swelling associated with a shoulder joint separation. Some options include:

  • Icing the shoulder for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours as needed
  • Wearing a sling or shoulder immobilizer to prevent further damage as the injury heals
  • Taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen or naproxen as needed
  • Performing physician-recommended stretching and strengthening exercises

If conservative treatment does not provide meaningful symptom relief, surgery may be recommended to repair a torn shoulder ligament. Afterward, a sling may be worn for approximately six weeks to promote proper healing.

As a full-service orthopedic provider, Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, offers a full range of both conservative and surgical treatments for shoulder injuries. If you’d like to explore your treatment options for a shoulder joint dislocation, contact today.