Where is it?
The Acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) is a joint at the top of the shoulder. It is the joint where the collar bone (clavicle) meets the top of the shoulder blade (scapula). The part of the scapula that the clavicle meets is at the acromion hence the name acromioclavicular joint.
What injury is it?
The AC joint is a common site of injury in athletes particularly in contact sports such as rugby and AFL. The common mechanism of injury is a fall onto the shoulder or an outstretched hand. However, AC joint injuries can also occur during a collision such as a tackle. This causes an AC joint sprain.
What structures are injured?
AC joint sprains usually involve injury to the shoulder capsule, AC ligaments and supporting ligaments that hold the clavicle in position.
What are the symptoms?
Those that have an AC joint sprain will experience immediate pain at the top of the shoulder at time of injury. Pain may increase with activities such as lying on the painful shoulder, moving the arm across the body or any overhead activities. Some pulling, lifting or carrying of objects is also aggravating. In more serious cases, there may be swelling and a visible ‘step deformity’ that looks like a bump in their shoulder with the end of the collar bone sticking up. This happens because the ligaments holding the clavicle in position have been torn.
Do I have an AC joint sprain?
Your PPS physiotherapist can help diagnose and identify severity of the problem correctly, and if necessary, refer you for an x-ray, MRI or CT scan to exclude any fractures.
How long will it take to recover?
Depending on the severity, minor to moderate AC joint sprains may take 2-6 weeks to recover. Those with more severe AC joint sprains that cause dislocation will require longer periods of rehabilitation to regain optimal function.
What do I do when I have an AC joint injury?
Initial treatment involves following the RICER principle:
- Rest the shoulder
- Ice the shoulder to numb the area
- Compress the area to stop swelling
- Elevate the area to stop swelling
- Review with a PPS Physiotherapist
What shouldn’t I do when I have an AC joint injury?
If you suspect you have an AC joint sprain, try not to ignore it. This may delay recovery and make your pain worse.
How can a PPS Physio help?
Your PPS Physiotherapist can help diagnose the problem and establish its severity. From this information an appropriate treatment plan can be made to get you back to full recovery as soon as possible.
This may involve activity modification, massage and mobilizations and other therapeutic agents to make you feel better. They will also tell determine and correct any biomechanical or postural issues that predispose you to injury.
Most importantly, your PPS Physiotherapist will provide you with specific stretches and an exercise program to prevent this issue from reoccurring when you return back sport.