Treatment and Recovery for AC Joint Injuries
The acromioclavicular joint (AC joint) is the area where the clavicle (collarbone) and acromion meet at the highest part of the shoulder blade. Although injuries to the AC joint are more common in athletes and young, active patients, AC trauma isn’t exclusive to any age group or lifestyle. Sudden injury from a fall or progressive autoimmune damage can cause AC injuries in patients of all ages.
Types of AC Injuries and Treatments
The treatment and recovery for an AC injury depends on the trauma sustained. Here are some of the most commonly reported AC injuries and typical treatment options.
A dislocation occurs when injury or excessive use causes the clavicle (collarbone) to detach from the acromion, located at the top of the shoulder blade. Dislocations can be broken down into two categories depending on the severity of the separation: partial and full. Orthopedic specialists can often treat both partial and full dislocations with physical therapy and other non-invasive treatments, and patients with acute separation may benefit from arthroscopic intervention for minimally invasive repair. However, for those with repeat dislocations of the AC joint, more invasive surgery may be the most optimal course of treatment.
Typically the result of a fall or another sudden trauma, breaks or cracks in the collarbone can cause serious pain and minimize flexibility. When a bone connected to the AC joint fractures with minimal damage, specialists may approach the wound with conservative treatments, such as activity modification and sling treatment. If the trauma is severe enough to break the skin or fragment, however; surgery may be the best alternative to repair the issue and preserve patient mobility.
Often presented as a gradual increase in pain and decrease in mobility, arthritis in the AC joint may appear in the form of osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. These afflictions break down the AC joint and tissue over time, which means treatment can range from physical therapy to arthroscopic excision to a complete shoulder replacement—depending on the severity of the trauma.
Recovery and Outlook for AC Injuries
Recovery for non-invasive treatments, like physical therapy and brief lifestyle changes, often requires weeks of rest and OTC medications to minimize pain. Follow-up appointments and imaging tests allow specialists to evaluate patient progress and adjust treatment as necessary.
However, a personalized rehabilitation plan is essential for those whose injuries required surgical intervention through arthroscopy or another procedure. Post-operation, continuous rehabilitation will help restore flexibility, reduce atrophy, and prevent prolonged recovery. Typically, arthroscopic patients can expect a full recovery in shoulder function and mobility in as little as two months, while patients of a full shoulder replacement may take up to six months to recover.
AC Injury Specialists
If an AC injury has slowed down your daily activities, consult the orthopaedic specialists at Orthopaedic Associates of St. Augustine. Our team of shoulder specialists can uncover the source of your shoulder complications and recommend treatment options that can bring the best results. To schedule an appointment, fill out our online request form or call 904-825-0540 for more information.
ALBERT VOLK, MD
Board certifications in Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine. He specializes in an all-arthroscopic rotator cuff repair of the shoulder.