The sternoclavicular joint, also referred to as the SC joint, is the area of the shoulder where the collarbone (clavicle) connects to the breastbone (sternum). These two bones are connected and held tightly together by ligaments, muscles, cartilage and tissue. While an SC joint dislocation is relatively uncommon compared to other dislocations, they are the most common injuries associated with the clavicle. Dr. Peter Millett specializes in treating sternoclavicular joint dislocations and returning patients to an active lifestyle in the greater Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area.

A sternoclavicular joint dislocation occurs when severe trauma or force is struck to the outside or front of the shoulder. Sporting activities, such as football, or traumatic events, such as a car accident, are common causes of this injury. These particular injuries cause a great deal of pain, and in many cases will visibly be seen because the bone will appear distorted or disfigured under the skin.

An SC joint dislocation and subluxation often mirror one another, however, in the case of a dislocation, the joint becomes completely separated, meaning the articular surfaces such as the cartilage, tendons and nearby muscles no longer remain intact. During a subluxation, these structures will remain all or partially intact.

There are two types of sternoclavicular joint dislocations, an anterior dislocation and a posterior dislocation.

  • An anterior dislocation means the clavicle is pushed forward, in front of the sternum. This is the more common form of a sternoclavicular joint dislocation.
  • A posterior dislocation is less common and is also considered complex. This injury occurs when the clavicle is pushed behind the sternum. It will take a very hard fall or traumatic event to cause a posterior dislocation and when this particular injury does occur, medical help will need to be sought immediately because vital organs reside behind the sternum, which lies against the injured clavicle. This injury can cause life threatening affects to the heart and lungs if not treated in a timely manner.

SC Dislocation Symptoms

Many patients recognize if an SC joint dislocation has occurred, commonly because of the severe shoulder pain worsened by arm movement in any direction. The end of the clavicle extends out near the sternum, causing a hard bump in the middle of the chest in anterior dislocation cases. A bump is not obvious in most cases involving a posterior dislocation, but patients may experience difficulty breathing, shortness of breath or a choking feeling.

SC Dislocation Diagnosis

A complete medical review and physical examination is needed to diagnose an SC joint dislocation. Patients who have experienced an anterior dislocation generally have a visible dislocation at the end of the clavicle, making the diagnosis quite simple for Dr. Millett. An X-ray and MRI scan may also be recommended by Dr. Millett to evaluate injury extent and dislocation type.

SC Dislocation Treatment

Dr. Millett will almost certainly perform surgery to relocate and reposition the sternoclavicular joint for a posterior SC dislocation. In some severe cases, if damage to nearby blood vessels or other organs are involved in the injury, a vascular surgeon may be brought in for additional consultation. Dr. Millett will perform surgery on an anterior SC joint dislocation in patients who present painful, symptomatic dislocations. During surgery, Dr. Millett will stabilize the joint through a reduction, and he may also repair the damaged capsule.

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