An AC joint separation commonly results from a fall onto the tip of the shoulder, especially with the arm tucked into the side. A separation occurs when the end of the clavicle pulls apart from the acromion.
The acromioclavicular joint is located between the portion of the shoulder blade known as the acromion and the collarbone. Acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation is a common reference to a partial or complete disruption of the AC joint and surrounding ligaments.
An AC or shoulder separation is a fairly common injury, especially among young adults and athletes. A seperation should not be confused with a dislocation; the two injuries are very distinct, having different signs, symptoms, and treatments.
The AC injuries are classified according to the degree of ligament and joint capsule damage. This injury varies in severity from grade I - VI with the classification dependent on the degree of soft tissie disruption and the position of the collarbone(clavicle).
The recommended treatment for most AC separations (grade I - III) is non-surgical. Treatment involves application of ice, use of a shoulder immobilizer or specially designed sling, early motion and medication to treat pain and inflammation.
Grade IV - VI AC separations are usually treated surgically.
Severe Grade III separations may, in rare cases, require surgery to stabilize the shoulder joint while the damaged ligaments heal.
If non-surgical treatment does not result in a pain free and functional shoulder after six months, surgery may be considered, which may offer significant improvement for the injured joint.