The sternoclavicular (SC) joint is located where the collarbone attaches to the breastbone. These bones are held tightly together by ligaments and other fibrous tissue that surround the joint. While sternoclavicular joint separation injuries are somewhat uncommon, sporting events and other traumatic events such as falls, car accidents and other activities that cause blunt force to the chest or collarbone could lead to an SC separation causing SC joint pain. Dr. Peter Millett, orthopedic shoulder surgeon located in the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area, is a leading surgeon in the treatment of SC separations.
Injuries to the SC joint are relatively uncommon, accounting for less than 5% of shoulder injuries. The SC joint is generally a very stable joint due to its very strong supporting ligaments. However, a sternoclavicular joint separation can occur when the ligaments that hold the SC joint together tear.
An SC separation injury can range from a mild separated shoulder to a complete tear. Many physicians range the injuries on a Grade I-III scale:
- Grade I: A simple sprain which involves an incomplete tear or stretching of the sternoclavicular and costoclavicular ligaments.
- Grade II: A partial tear of the costoclavicular ligament and a complete tear of the sternoclavicular ligament.
- Grade III: A complete tear of the sternoclavicular and costoclavicular ligaments.
SC Separation Symptoms
The most common symptoms associated with this injury are pain, tenderness, swelling and limited movement. The collarbone may also appear displaced.
SC Separation Diagnosis
A sternoclavicular joint separation can be identified via an X-ray, CT scan or an MRI. These tests will determine the extent of the injury and how much damage has been done to the ligaments. Dr. Millett will also gently feel the bones and soft tissues in the injured area, evaluate the range of motion and perform tests to locate specific areas of SC joint pain and weakness.
SC Separation Treatment
For mild SC separations, conservative treatment such as ice, anti-inflammatory medication, immobilization via a sling and a distinct period of rest will help treat the injury. More severe cases may require surgery involving a reconstruction of the ligament or a stabilization technique to secure and tighten the ligaments. Without the proper treatment, the shoulder could continue to subluxate in the future and ongoing sternoclavicular joint instability could occur. Rehabilitation is also important so that the shoulder joint can regain strength, motion and mobility.
For additional information on an SC separation, or to learn more about treatment options for this shoulder injury, please contact Dr. Peter Millett, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area.