Shoulder injuries of the AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint, are quite common. An AC joint injury can result from a hard fall or from a traumatic event. An acromioclavicular joint injury can result in a severe AC sprain, AC fracture or an AC joint separation, which occurs when the collarbone (clavicle) separates from the shoulder blade (acromion). An AC joint injury is measured in varying grades. For example, a Grade I injury will bring mild shoulder pain because the AC ligaments are simply stretched. A higher grade injury will represent itself in a partial shoulder ligament tear or a full shoulder ligament tear, or a shoulder separation. Dr. Peter Millett, orthopedic shoulder surgeon serving the greater Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area, specializes in acromioclavicular joint pain and treating AC joint injuries.

AC Joint Injury Symptoms

Symptoms of an injured AC joint will range from mild tenderness to intense, sharp acromioclavicular joint pain that is typically caused of a complete shoulder separation. In a higher grade shoulder injury, a popping sensation will often be heard and prominent shoulder bruising will take place on the skin.

Each varying grade of acromioclavicular joint injury requires a specific treatment option. The first step to determining the exact injury grade is a proper diagnosis and examination from Dr. Millett. After diagnosis, a decision can be reached for proper treatment.

AC Joint Injury Treatment Options

Treatment for a lower grade acromioclavicular joint injury will usually consist of plenty of rest along with the use of pain medications and a shoulder sling. For a more advanced AC joint injury, shoulder instability and frequent separations and dislocations can occur on a daily basis. This condition causes men and women to lose time at work, decrease the activities they enjoy and if left untreated can lead to early arthritis or permanent damage to the shoulder joint. In these more advanced cases, surgery will be required. There are numerous shoulder surgery techniques to treat the AC joint offered by Dr. Millett’s office:

Arthroscopic Surgery

The arthroscopic AC repair procedure is a minimally-invasive surgery performed when three small incisions are made so that the clavicle—which is the joint that has been separated—can be fixed back into its proper position. Surgery involving arthroscopic AC repair is performed on an outpatient-basis and full range of motion is quickly re-established within days of the procedure.

Arthroscopic Stabilization Surgery for Shoulder Separations

Arthroscopic stabilization for shoulder dislocations is considered when the episodes of instability are occurring frequently, prohibits the individual from performing overhead activities or partake in sports and interferes with normal daily routines. Once all other therapies have been exhausted, arthroscopic stabilization surgery is often the next step. Arthroscopic stabilization surgery is a partnership between the doctor and patient. The results of the surgery are most effective when a post-operative rehabilitation program involving physical therapy and shoulder exercises are implemented.

For more resources on an AC joint injury, or to learn more about treatment options for acromioclavicular joint pain, please contact Dr. Peter Millett, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area.

(Click to Enlarge Image) The top image shows an acute left acromioclavicular (AC) joint dislocation as evidenced by superior displacement of the distal clavicle (yellow arrow). The bottom image shows the same patient after AC reconstruction using tendon graft.

(Click to Enlarge Image) The top left image demonstrates an acute acromioclavicular (AC) joint dislocation as evidenced by superior migration of the distal clavicle. The top right image shows the same patient after AC reconstruction using tendon graft and cortical fixation buttons. The bottom image is an arthroscopic view of a cortical fixation button on the undersurface of the coracoid process.