Joints connect your bones to one another, providing your body with support and the ability to move. Problems in a joint, whether caused by injury or disease, can affect your movement and lead to pain.
Your shoulder blade (scapula) has a bony outgrowth, known as the acromion, at its highest point. Your collarbone (clavicle) is the long, thin bone that connects your breastbone (sternum) with the scapula. The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is the joint formed where the scapula and clavicle meet.
AC joint injury is a common problem and this page gives an overview of symptoms, causes and surgical repair options available, but it is always advisable to seek the advice of a medical professional for serious problems or if you have concerns. If you would appreciate assessment, diagnosis and advice on any potential surgical treatment for your AC joint injury, please contact us to book your appointment with an orthopaedic consultant at the Circle hospital nearest to you, at a time that is convenient for you.
The AC joint is most commonly damaged as a result of injury or trauma. While this may be something as simple as falling onto your outstretched arm, it is often also seen in people who participate in physical contact sports such as rugby, wrestling and judo, when strong forces may impact on the joint. A cyclist who falls over their handlebars is also a strong candidate for an AC joint injury.
If you have injured your AC joint, you will have pain near the top of your shoulder. You may also be able to feel a bump on the top of your shoulder, caused by the clavicle pushing upwards more than normal as a result of the injury. You may be aware of the muscles in your neck and shoulder contracting more than normal, due to the loss of stability in the shoulder.
What is the treatment for a damaged AC joint?
Damage to your AC joint can vary in degree and severity, depending on the extent of the damage to the joint and the surrounding structures. At the lower end of the scale, you may have stretched or torn some of the ligaments in your shoulder, while on the upper end of the scale, you may have completely dislocated the clavicle from the acromion and torn (ruptured) the ligaments. This more severe type of injury will be the one that is more likely to need surgery to repair.
However, many people find they are able to successfully manage treatment for a damaged AC joint injury using purely non-surgical methods, and improvement would be expected within 2-3 months. These treatments may include:
- Ice: A cold ice pack placed on the top of your shoulder can often help to reduce swelling and pain.
- Medication: Painkillers, particularly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen, can help to relieve pain and reduce any inflammation in the AC joint.
- Physiotherapy: Your consultant may recommend that you see a physiotherapist for help in learning how to strengthen the muscles around the AC joint, to help stabilise it safely and to prevent further damage in the future.
AC joint repair surgery
Should your AC joint injury still be causing you pain and problems after a couple of months, your consultant may advise you to have AC joint repair surgery. The aim of this surgical repair is to reconstruct the damaged ligaments and to remove the damaged end of the clavicle, restoring stability and range of motion in your joint while reducing pain.
Your consultant will talk you through the surgical procedure, clearly explaining how it is done, any complications or implications of the surgery that you may need to be aware of and the expected recovery time from the surgery. As always at Circle, if you have any questions at any time, you will be able to talk through them with your consultant thoroughly.
If you have damaged your AC joint and are finding it challenging to manage the pain or to cope with any loss in your range of motion in the joint, you will find no better place to come for expert help than your nearest Circle hospital. Each of our modern, clean hospitals provide fast access to an orthopaedic consultant, state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic equipment and a highly-experienced multidisciplinary healthcare team to ensure your AC joint injury is managed and treated as quickly and effectively as possible.
Contact us today to arrange an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant at your nearest Circle hospital, at a time convenient to you, so that we can help get your AC joint repair surgery carried out promptly.