AC Joint Separated Shoulder Pain

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What is AC Joint Injury? Its Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and Exercises

If you were wondering what is AC Joint injury? It is an injury that takes place at the top of one’s shoulder. More specifically, the joint where the shoulder connects with the collarbone. It is extremely painful and leads to pain across the whole shoulder, especially the joint. The best treatment for Shoulder Pain is to wear a Shoulder Brace.

What is AC Joint Injury?

There are ligaments that connect your collarbone to a part of your shoulder blade called the acromion. When these ligaments are torn, your shoulder is essentially separated from the joint. This is the AC Joint Injury.

The AC joint injuries are mostly sustained by people who are under 35 years old. In addition, men are more likely to not only sustain more AC joint injuries but sustain more severe injuries than females.

The AC Joint separation leads to swelling, pain, and discomfort that only grows with time. This is why people should seek treatment from medical professionals immediately when they see signs of this injury.

Causes of AC Joint Injury

The Acromioclavicular Joint injury or an AC Joint injury is caused when your shoulder takes a hit, forcing it to separate from the collarbone. More specifically, if the top of your shoulder or your arm takes a hit, the force of the hit could lead to an AC Joint injury.

Injuries during sports can also lead to an AC Joint separation. If a sports person falls on their shoulder or is hit by another player during the game, there is a great chance of the shoulder being separated from the collarbone.

Sports that involve a lot of physical activity such as Rugby and Football can lead to the players injuring their shoulders due to the excessive force and aggression that is a part of these games.

This type of injury is also caused by partaking in strenuous work involving heavy materials. Manual laborers are always at great risk of sustaining this injury since they are usually handling heavy tools and machinery and doing a lot of physical labor.

Another important cause of this injury is repeatedly using an already injured arm. If your arm is injured and instead of resting it, you continue to use it for everyday work, the ligaments connecting your shoulder to your collarbone will be further damaged. This will lead to a more severe form of AC joint injury.

Types of AC Joint Injuries

There are around six types of AC Joint injuries. However, the most common types are Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3.Type 1 is the least severe form and happens when the AC ligament that connects your shoulder to your collarbone is only slightly damaged, and other ligaments are not damaged at all.

 Furthermore, in a Type 1 injury, the shoulder is only very slightly displaced from the joint. This is also the most common type of AC joint injury. It also takes faster to heal, and it much less painful.

Type 2 is slightly more severe because your AC ligament is completely torn and other ligaments have sustained some damage.

Type 3 is the most severe form, and all the ligaments connecting your shoulder (including the AC Ligament) are completely damaged. The shoulder, in this case, is completely separated from the joint. This is the most severe form of injury and could even require surgery to heal. Type 3 is also one of the most painful types.

Symptoms of AC Joint Injury

There are various symptoms of an AC joint injury. If you experience these symptoms it a good idea to visit a doctor. Here are some of the symptoms that can help you recognize whether or not you are experiencing an AC joint injury. Some of these include:

·         Swelling and pain

Swelling and pain at the top of your shoulder, or the part where your shoulder meets your collarbone, is the most common symptom of this injury.

Pain is the most common symptom, and it arises frequently if you have this injury. You feel pain if you lift heavy objects with the injured shoulder, or even if you lie on it. The injured shoulder will not be able to handle any form of pressure, and you will often feel painful stings.

If your shoulder feels tender to the touch and you feel a stinging feeling of pain every time you either move your shoulder or place even the slightest pressure on it, there is a great chance that you have an AC joint pain and separation.   

·         Prominent bumps

If there is a prominent bump on the top of your shoulder, there is a chance that this could be another symptom of this injury. This bump will also be painful to the touch, which is why a doctor must be consulted immediately after it appears.

In addition to a visible bump, another important symptom is if your shoulder makes a popping sound each time you move it. This popping sound may be accompanied by pain and will cause you some discomfort.

·         Loss of movement in the injured shoulder

If you have an AC joint injury, you will experience a pronounced loss of movement in the injured shoulder. This means that you will face difficulty doing basic everyday tasks which could be as simple as picking things up.

You will also not be able to move your arm too fast since it will be painful. In addition, you will also feel that your shoulder is losing its strength. This means you will not be able to lift heavier things that you could easily lift prior to the injury.

Some simple movements will become especially difficult for you to carry out. These include lifting something over your head or even reaching out to grab something. You will feel pain and discomfort during these activities.


A proper diagnosis is extremely important for shoulder injury and pain. When you visit your physician, they will take a review of your medical history and inquire whether you have any genetic reasons that might be causing the pain.

They will also be inquired about the pain itself. What is the pain feels like? What aggravates it? And what kind of methods have you opted for it to ease it? Later your doctor can also put you through a physical evaluation in which they can check for tenderness, swelling, and your range of movement and flexibility.

While a physical examination is enough at times, some doctors recommend another round of imaging test to eliminate other causes of the pain. For such cases, an X-Ray or an MRI technology is used to have a clearer picture of the bone and the soft tissue surrounding the area. It helps give a confirmed diagnosis and start with the correct treatment as soon as possible.

Treatment options for AC joint Injury

Once you’re diagnosed with an AC joint injury, you can start with the right treatment option right away. The right treatment depends on the cause of the injury and your condition. While some injuries may go away on their own, others require intensive treatments.

Usually, the injuries resolve over a few weeks with some medication and physical therapy. Although it is recommended to take a professional opinion instead of trying self-treatment.

1)    Physiotherapy

A physiotherapist can help restore your joint’s function with a range of different treatments and regimes. It is the first step on your road to recovery from an AC Joint injury.

·         Correcting your range of motion

Going to a proper physiotherapist can help heal your injury. A physiotherapist helps improve your range of motion with a planned regime of exercises. The main aim to make sure you are able to do certain motions without any discomfort or pain.

A good physiotherapist can help reduce stiffness, tightness around the joint as well as bruising and inflammation. They help with your recovery process at a pace you prefer.

·         Strength Training

Strength training is essential, especially if your shoulder pain is due to weak muscles. It can cause your muscles to tear and get damaged easily. In addition to this, strength training includes a regime of exercises and motions that help improve your muscle flexibility.

These muscles include the upper back muscles, shoulder, and elbow to make a properly functioning system of connective muscle tissues.  It can help you do your day to day tasks with ease without experiencing stiffness or discomfort.

·         Manual Therapy

Manual therapy is hands-on therapy in which the therapist moves your elbow, arm, and shoulder to increase your range of movement and improve overall stability. A trained physiotherapist makes sure you are comfortable as well as improving your muscle strength as planned.

Manual therapy is usually a good option for aged patients who have trouble moving their joints on their own or for patients who have experienced an AC joint injury due to trauma or a fall. It helps distribute the burden on your joints until you can manage them on your own.

·         Functional training

Functional training is essential for a small AC joint that bears the burden of your entire shoulder. It can help improve muscle stability and strength in order to prevent such injuries from occurring again.

·         Awareness

An essential part of physiotherapy is awareness. Therapists make sure you know your body’s limits and what kind of activities are safe for you. A personalized plan is also created for the rehabilitation and recovery of your muscles.

Functional training helps improve incorrect posture and whether you operate under your body’s limits. Your physiotherapist will help you recognize motions that have more risk involved and the correct way you are using your arm.

This is vital and enables you to prevent future pain and shoulder injuries as well. Make sure you get an adequate amount of rest and are not overworking yourself in any way.

2)    Exercises

There are certain exercises that you can perform for an AC joint injury. This includes stretching and light weightlifting that can transform the way your shoulders function it makes them healthier flexible and stable which further reduces the chance I’m getting it in the future

3)    Wearing a shoulder brace

The best treatment for Shoulder Pain is to wear a Shoulder Brace. Some doctors recommend wearing the shoulder brace to reduce risk and allows you to restrict your range of motion. It gives your joints the added support and stabilizes it. This can help your shoulder relax and reduces the burden on them.

Your doctor or physician might recommend you wear a shoulder brace for a few weeks until you can manage to do day to day activities on your own. It gives you the rest you need and prevent overextension of the joint, which can cause a lot of pain in an AC joint injury.

4)    Medication and Steroids  

Typically, at first, doctors recommend painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicines that can help control swelling and discomfort a patient might be experiencing. Medication like ibuprofen can reduce inflammation, and over the counter, paracetamol can help make the pain more manageable.

Medicines can improve your range of motion. They can help you sleep and aid with day-to-day tasks as well. While it can deal with the symptoms of shoulder pain for a certain time, it is not a complete cure for the ailment.

Certain pains are not manageable by just medication; this is where you would require a steroid injection as well. Although it is recommended that you include a regime of physical therapy as well as medication to overcome your problem.

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