Separated shoulder, also known as acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation, is a sprain of the ligaments that attach the clavicle (collarbone) to the acromion (highest part of the scapula, or shoulder blade). The sprain can be either partial, with minimal separation of the clavicle and acromion, or complete, which means the bones have come entirely apart. Treatment depends on the amount of displacement seen on X-rays.
Separated shoulder commonly occurs from a direct blow to the lateral (outside) part of the shoulder or from falling on an outstretched hand or elbow. The injury is common in contact sports and from falls while biking, skiing or snowboarding.
Our Approach to Separated Shoulder
For less severe injuries, a separated shoulder typically heals on its own, with simple treatments to reduce pain and swelling, such as using ice packs, pain medication and an arm sling. But for more severe separations, or in cases of prolonged pain, surgery may be appropriate to either repair or reconstruct the damaged ligaments.
If you need surgery, our team includes orthopedic surgeons who specialize in the shoulder; physical therapists who focus on orthopedic and sports-medicine patients; primary care sports medicine doctors; and athletic trainers, who educate patients in proper recovery methods. Our experts work together to relieve pain and restore mobility, so patients can return to their normal lives and the activities they enjoy.
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UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.