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What You May Not Know About an Injury to the AC Joint

If you have an injury to the AC joint or the acromioclavicular joint, there’s damage in the top joint of your shoulder, where your shoulder blade attaches to your collarbone. These injuries can be from overuse or from trauma — usually sustained in a fall or by athletes who are more likely to engage in activities involving collisions, such as football, hockey, and other high-impact sports.

An AC joint injury is most common in people under 35, and five times more common in males of this demographic. Regardless of the cause, Dr. Dominique Nickson and his team at Next Step Orthopedics provide expert treatment for shoulder injuries. Here’s what you may not know about an injury to the AC joint.

Types of AC joint injuries

There are varying degrees of injury when it comes to your AC joint, depending on which of the ligaments that hold your AC joint together are torn — the coracoclavicular (CC) ligament and the acromioclavicular (AC) ligament — as well as the extent of injury, ranging from a mild stretching of the ligaments to a complete tear.

Type I

Your shoulder ligaments surrounding your AC joint may be stretched or sprained, but aren’t torn.

Type II

The AC ligament is torn, and there’s minor damage to the CC ligament.

Type III

Both the AC and CC ligaments are torn, resulting in a complete separation of your collar bone from your shoulder blade. Shoulder separation is the worst of the most common types of AC joint injury.

Type IV-VI

These are rare types of AC joint injuries. Fairly debilitating, they range from issues with displacement to complete dislocation.

Symptoms of an AC joint injury

If you’ve sustained damage to your shoulder — whether sports-related, due to a fall, or from overuse — there are some symptoms that indicate whether the injury affects your AC joint. These include:

When you have an AC joint injury, you notice pain or discomfort when performing everyday activities. This includes carrying heavy objects at your side, lifting things overhead, or reaching across your body.

Risks of leaving an AC joint injury untreated

Many of the above symptoms are things that people dismiss as everyday pain or discomfort that’s just a common part of aging or playing a rough sport. Leaving your AC joint injury untreated means your condition can worsen, which can have serious consequences, such as:

It’s always important to seek a doctor’s care in the case of injuries. With medical intervention and treatment, you can expect full recovery.

Treatment options for AC joint injuries

Depending on the type of AC joint injury, treatments can range from conservative remedies to more invasive surgical options. Generally, unless an injury is one of the more severe types, Dr. Nickson recommends nonsurgical treatments, such as resting, applying ice, and taking anti-inflammatory medication.

If your AC joint injury is one of the more severe types, surgical options ranging from light trimming of the bones to complete reconstruction might be necessary. Whether you undergo surgery or more conservative treatment, physical therapy and rehabilitation can be fairly beneficial to your recovery.

If you’ve sustained an injury to your AC joint, it may be time to make an appointment at Next Step Orthopedics. Particularly if you’re feeling lasting pain or discomfort, it could be an issue that requires surgical intervention.


As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Nickson is skilled in providing both conservative and surgical interventions for your shoulder injuries. Don’t wait for the issue to get worse. Call or schedule an appointment online, right on our website, today.

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