Shoulder Separation (Acromioclavicular Joint Injury)

A shoulder separation occurs after a fall or a sharp blow to the top of the shoulder. This injury is usually sports related. Some separations happen in car accidents or falls. This is not the same as a shoulder dislocation, which occurs at the large joint where the arm attaches to the shoulder, although the two may appear to be the same.

The shoulder separation, or acromioclavicular (AC) dislocation, is an injury to the junction between the collarbone and the shoulder. It is usually a soft-tissue or ligament injury but may include a fracture (broken bone).

Nonoperative Treatment:

  • Ice -Is an important treatment of most acute soft tissue injuries.

  • Sling -Frequently, a sling is needed and helpful for the first few days after an injury. This helps to support the weight of the arm and to restrict motion. It is usually advised, however, to begin some motion exercises within a few days once the immediate pain has stopped.

  • Pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications-May be advised, either over-the-counter or by prescription.

  • Physical Therapy -You may require physical therapy, particularly once the immediate pain has stopped within a few days. The decision for this often is made during a follow-up visit.



Some surgeons prefer to repair severe AC separations, especially in high-level throwing athletes. The surgery is usually done through a small incision over the AC joint, and can sometimes be done arthroscopically to reduce pain and improve cosmetic appearance.


Shoulder Separation (AAOS)