Sprains to the sternoclavicular (SC) joint are often referred to as shoulder sprains. However, shoulder sprains can affect various structures within the shoulder joint. A sternoclavicular joint sprain is a distinct injury that is not as common as other sprains that can occur within the joint. An SC joint sprain is usually caused when the chest makes impact with an object or force, such as hitting the steering wheel during an automobile accident or a tackle during a football game. A sternoclavicular joint sprain involves a tear of the ligaments that make up this region of the shoulder. Dr. Peter Millett, proudly serving patients in the greater Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado communities, specializes in diagnosing and treating shoulder pain and other troublesome symptoms associated with an SC sprain.
The SC joint is responsible for supporting the shoulder joint. It is also the main connection between the shoulder and arms. SC joint injuries are not as common as other structures of the shoulder, but injuries such as an SC sprain can occur during sporting activities or a fall. In the medical field, SC joint sprains are graded on a I to III scale:
- Grade I: A Grade I sprain of the sternoclavicular joint indicates a minor tear within the ligaments. This tear can usually only be seen under a microscope and all other structures remain connected. This injury causes pain, but can easily be remedied with ice, anti-inflammatory medications, a sling and physical therapy (if needed).
- Grade II: A Grade II sprain of the sternoclavicular joint shows a tear between the collarbone and breastbone that is more visible to the naked eye. While the tear itself is larger and presents an increase in symptoms, the ligaments surrounding this area still remain connected. Conservative treatment is also used to treat a grade II sprain of the sternoclavicular joint, however, physical therapy will be needed so strength and range of motion can be regained. If Dr. Millett feels surgery is needed, he will make that evaluation following his initial assessment.
- Grade III: A Grade III sprain of the sternoclavicular joint indicates all of the ligaments within this region of the shoulder have suffered trauma. When this type of sprain occurs, in most cases, the ligaments become so damaged the joint can become separated. Arthroscopic shoulder surgery will usually be the recommended course of treatment in order to repair the damaged ligaments.
SC Sprain Symptoms
A sternoclavicular joint sprain will cause a sudden onset of pain in the SC joint area in many patients. Pain may only be present when the arm is lifted overhead, moved across the body or when lifting objects in less severe grade injuries. Pain may be so severe the patient cannot perform normal activities without cradling the arm in more severe grade injuries. Other common symptoms include swelling, bruising and a visible deformity at the front of the chest. The deformity is commonly caused by tearing of the connective tissue holding the SC joint together.
SC Sprain Diagnosis
Dr. Millett will perform a medical review and complete physical examination in order to diagnosis an SC sprain. During the exam, Dr. Millett will move the injured shoulder to determine areas of shoulder pain, instability and weakness. X-rays and an MRI scan may also be performed to determine the grade of the SC joint sprain and to rule out any other injuries to the shoulder joint.
SC Sprain Treatment
SC joint sprain treatment depends on the severity of the injury. Typically, a grade I SC sprain can heal with non-surgical measures such as ice, anti-inflammatory medications, a sling and a physical therapy program. A grade II SC sprain typically heals with similar conservative measures as a grade I injury, but arthroscopic shoulder surgery may be recommended by Dr. Millett in more severe cases. Arthroscopic surgery is commonly required for grade III SC sprains to repair the damaged ligaments and restore normal function.
For additional information on an SC joint sprain, or to learn more about treatment options for a sternoclavicular joint sprain, please contact Dr. Peter Millett, orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area.