AC Joint Sprain

What is an AC joint sprain?

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is made of four ligaments that hold the collar bone to the shoulder blade.  When sprained, these ligaments may be partly or fully torn.  As such, these sprains are graded from I to III, with I being the most mild tissue damage, and grade III being a complete tear of the ligament.  Whether partial or full, this causes pain and swelling at the end of the collar bone.  If completely torn, the collar bone will rise and create a visible bump.

Even complete tears of the AC ligaments are typically managed without surgery, although in certain cases surgical repair may be warranted prior to rehabilitation.

Common Symptoms

The symptoms of an AC joint sprain are:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Shoulder that feels sore when touched
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Change in shape of shoulder
  • Bulge above shoulder
  • Shoulder that appears to droop
  • Collarbone that moves upward
  • Limited movement in shoulder

Causes

Most often, an AC joint sprain is caused by an accident or injury, which forces the AC joint apart.  These injuries generally include falling onto the shoulder or taking contact in sports like hockey or rugby.  However, an AC joint sprain can also occur from overuse caused by repetitive tasks like painting, hammering and prolonged use of a dominant hand/arm.

Treatment

We will adjust treatment based on severity of the sprain.

The focus of our treatment will be to improve the healing environment and ensure that soft tissue receives the support that it requires in order to heal.  In a low grade sprain, this could mean facilitating early range of motion return/maintenance and using rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the affected ligaments.  Additionally, this will mean ensuring that other related areas, such as the neck and shoulder blade are moving and working properly.

With an AC injury, doing nothing is rarely the best path.  Early guidance by an experienced practitioner will help to give you the best chance of recovery.

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