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The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is a small yet significant part of the shoulder complex, playing a crucial role in upper body mobility and stability. AC joint injuries are common, particularly among athletes and physically active individuals. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for AC joint injuries is essential for effective management and recovery. At Jonathan L. Glashow, MD Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive care for all types of shoulder injuries, including those affecting the AC joint.

What is the AC Joint?

The AC joint is located at the top of the shoulder, where the acromion (a part of the scapula) meets the clavicle (collarbone). This joint is stabilized by several ligaments and allows for the movement and flexibility of the shoulder. Injuries to the AC joint can range from mild sprains to severe dislocations, affecting shoulder function and quality of life.

Causes and Symptoms of AC Joint Injuries

The most common cause of AC joint injuries is a direct blow to the shoulder, often occurring during contact sports like football, hockey, or rugby. Falls onto an outstretched hand or directly onto the shoulder can also result in AC joint injuries.

Repetitive overhead activities, such as those performed by weightlifters, swimmers, and construction workers, can lead to chronic stress and inflammation of the AC joint. Over time, this can weaken the ligaments and cause injury.

Age-related wear and tear can also contribute to AC joint injuries. Osteoarthritis and other degenerative conditions can weaken the joint structures, making them more susceptible to injury from minor trauma or repetitive use.

The severity of symptoms depends on the extent of the injury. Common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Sharp or aching pain at the top of the shoulder, which may radiate to the neck or arm.
  • Swelling and Bruising: Visible swelling and bruising around the joint area.
  • Deformity: In severe cases, a noticeable bump or displacement at the top of the shoulder.
  • Limited Mobility: Difficulty lifting the arm, especially above shoulder level.
  • Weakness: Reduced strength in the shoulder and arm.

Accurate diagnosis of an AC joint injury involves a thorough physical examination and imaging studies. During the examination, Dr. Glashow will assess the shoulder for tenderness, deformity and range of motion. X-rays and MRI scans may be used to evaluate the extent of the injury and rule out other possible conditions.

Treatment Options

Treatment for AC joint injuries varies based on the severity of the injury.

Non-Surgical Treatments:

  • Rest and Ice: Initial treatment often involves rest and ice application to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs can help manage symptoms.
  • Physical Therapy: A tailored physical therapy program can restore shoulder strength and mobility. Exercises focus on improving range of motion, reducing stiffness, and strengthening surrounding muscles.
  • Injections: Corticosteroid injections may be recommended to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.

Surgical Treatments:

  • Arthroscopic Surgery: In cases of severe injury or when conservative treatments fail, arthroscopic surgery may be necessary. This minimally invasive procedure involves repairing or reconstructing damaged ligaments and removing any bone spurs or fragments.
  • Open Surgery: For more complex injuries, open surgical techniques may be required to stabilize the joint and restore function.

Recovery time varies depending on the severity of the injury and the chosen treatment method. Non-surgical treatments typically require a few weeks to a few months for full recovery, while surgical treatments may necessitate a longer rehabilitation period. Adhering to a structured rehabilitation program is crucial for regaining full shoulder function.

AC joint injuries, while common, can significantly impact shoulder function and overall quality of life. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatment options is essential for effective management and recovery. At Jonathan L. Glashow, MD Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine in NYC, we are committed to providing personalized and comprehensive care for patients with AC joint injuries. If you are experiencing shoulder pain or suspect an AC joint injury, contact us today to schedule a consultation and begin your path to recovery.

Posted on behalf of Jonathan Glashow, MD

737 Park Ave, #1A
New York, NY 10021

Phone: (212) 794-5096


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