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AC Joint Separation

What is AC Joint Separation?

AC joint dislocation or separation, also known as shoulder separation, is a condition characterized by damage to the ligaments that connect the acromion to the collar bone. As a result, the bones do not line up properly, causing joint pain and instability.

Causes of AC Joint Separation

Causes include:

  • A fall on the shoulder
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • A sports injury

Symptoms of AC Joint Separation

Symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Weakness in the arm or shoulder
  • Loss of motion
  • Swelling
  • Bruising

Diagnosis of AC Joint Separation

Diagnosis can be made based on discussion of your symptoms and a physical examination of the shoulder. A shoulder X-ray may be ordered to confirm the diagnosis of AC joint separation.

Treatment for AC Joint Separation

Conservative treatment is usually effective, but in cases of a severely unstable joint, surgery may be considered. The treatment methods include:

Conservative method:

  • Medications: anti-inflammatory pain medications help to reduce pain and swelling.
  • Rest: You will be instructed to avoid activities that provoke pain and to use a sling to immobilize your shoulder and arm.
  • Ice: An ice pack can be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time to reduce swelling and pain.
  • Physical therapy: Specific exercises can be done to help strengthen the shoulder muscles.


Your doctor will make one or more incisions over the AC joint to put the bones back into appropriate position and stabilize the joint with heavy sutures and/or a tendon graft.

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