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Treatment Orthopedics

Separated Shoulder

Nonsurgical Treatment

Initial treatment of a mild shoulder separation consists of taking pain medication and applying ice to relieve the immediate symptoms. A sling is often used for seven to 10 days to provide comfort while the joint begins to heal. X-rays are usually taken to assess the displacement of the collarbone. If there's concern about injury to other parts of the shoulder, an MRI may be ordered. Patients with only mild damage can return to their normal activities as soon as one to two weeks after the injury, though sometimes it takes longer to heal completely.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is the best option for a severe separated shoulder, and it's generally best to have it within three weeks of the injury. Surgery may also be needed for patients who try nonsurgical measures but get unsatisfactory results.

Surgery involves repairing or reconstructing the ligaments that hold the collarbone to the shoulder blade, using either strong sutures or a tendon from the patient's own leg or a cadaver donor. These treatment decisions depend on the injury's severity and how much time has elapsed since it occurred. This surgery is done on an outpatient basis, under general anesthesia. Patients are usually given a nerve block (an injection for pain in the treated area), which lessens postsurgical discomfort.

For six weeks after surgery, patients wear a sling to immobilize the area and facilitate healing. After that, a physical therapy program to restore motion and regain strength is initiated. Most patients are able to resume full activities approximately six months after surgery.

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.

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