The AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint, is the point where the acromion—a finger-like protrusion at the top of your shoulder blade—meets the clavicle, or collar bone. Your AC joints allow you to raise your arms over your head and are also involved in moving your shoulder blades.
While the shoulder as a whole is more susceptible to injury than other joints because of its mobility, the AC joint is especially vulnerable to sprains as it is held together by only three ligaments. In this blog, NYC orthopedic specialist, Dr. Francis Mendoza, will address the common causes of a sprained AC joint and how the injury is treated.
What is an AC joint sprain?
A sprained AC joint—also known as a separated shoulder—occurs when one or more of the ligaments holding the joint together and stabilizing it are stretched or torn. This type of injury can range in severity from mild, in which the ligaments are slightly injured, to severe. In a simple sprain, the ligaments are only stretched or partially torn. At its most serious, an AC joint sprain involves a complete tear of the ligament, or detachment of the ligament from the bone.
What are the common causes of a sprained AC joint?
An AC joint sprain is a common injury in contact sports such as football or hockey, but it isn’t limited to athletes. This type of injury can occur due to trauma to the shoulder such as:
- Falling on an outstretched arm
- Falling and landing directly on your shoulder
- A blow directly to your shoulder blade
- Car accidents
How is a sprained AC joint treated?
Treatment depends on the severity of the injury, and proper evaluation by an experienced orthopedic shoulder specialist is important if you’ve suffered from an AC joint sprain or separation. Treatment may range from conservative, non-invasive measures for milder sprains to surgery in the most serious.
Conservative treatments for an AC joint sprain may include:
- Resting the injured shoulder and avoiding activities that cause pain – rest allows the joint to heal, and restricting activities that cause pain limits any further damage
- Taking anti-inflammatory medications or over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling
- Using ice to reduce swelling and inflammation
- Wearing a sling to immobilize the shoulder – immobilizing the joint allows it to rest and heal
- Taping the joint to hold it in the proper position as it heals
- Undergoing physical therapy
Severe injuries, or those that don’t respond well to conservative treatments may require surgery. Acromioclavicular joint separation repair or reconstruction may involve fixing the bones into their proper positions using surgical hardware then securing the torn ends of the ligaments with sutures.
In some cases, surgery may also involve replacing damaged ligaments with healthy ligament tissue harvested from another area of the body or from a cadaver, or grafting healthy ligaments to the damaged ones. Depending on the patient’s situation, surgery may be done arthroscopically, using several small incisions and an arthroscope—a tiny camera inserted into the joint via a tube—or through more conventional, open surgery involving exposing the joint through large incisions. The treatment that is most appropriate for your sprained AC joint depends on your individual needs.
Where can I get treated for an AC joint sprain in NYC?
If you are looking for an experienced orthopedic shoulder doctor to treat your sprained AC joint, call us at (212) 628-9600 or schedule your appointment online today. Our NYC orthopedic practice specializes in the shoulder and elbow and can determine the most appropriate treatment for you.