Acromioclavicular (AC) joint injury

when the acromioclavicular joint is displaced

An AC joint injury is commonly referred to as shoulder separation

What is an AC joint injury?

The AC joint is the joint at the top of your shoulder between your collarbone (clavicle) and your shoulder blade (scapula). The AC joint is needed for the overhead and cross-body movement of your arm, as well as for giving you strength in physical activities such as pushing, pulling and lifting. A direct impact can injure your AC joint.

Need to know

  • What are the symptoms of an AC joint injury? icon plus

    Symptoms may include:

    • pain on the top of the shoulder which is exacerbated by heavy lifting, pushing, pulling and cross-body movements
    • swelling and/or bruising
    • restriction in your shoulder movements
    • if your collar bone (clavicle) is displaced a lump may be visible on top of your shoulder
  • How are AC joint injuries diagnosed? icon plus

    AC joint injuries are graded by severity from Grade I (minimal joint disruption) to Grade VI (severe injury).

    Your consultant will perform a physical examination of your shoulder and may conduct an X-ray or MRI to arrive at your diagnosis: These should be performed to assess the grade of injury which determines the best treatment options.

  • Potential treatment options icon plus

    Treatment options correspond to the grades:

    • Grades I and II — no displacement. These do not require surgery and most recover with a sling and mobilisation when comfortable. Very few may require a steroid injection if it remains painful.
    • Grade III — some displacement/subluxation. This is mostly treated without surgery but surgery may be considered depending on your activity level.
    • Grades IV to VI — complete displacement. These are usually treated with surgery. This involves the use of an artificial ligament. You may be in a sling after surgery, followed by physiotherapy.

Our shoulder consultants

We're proud to work with leading orthopaedic experts specialising in injuries to the shoulder and elbow, and whose skills are matched by their integrity and compassion.

Our locations

From complex orthopaedic surgery to diagnostic tests and procedures, we provide exceptional orthopaedic care across our network of hospitals, outpatient centres and specialist clinics.

Request a shoulder or elbow appointment

We're happy to help you make an appointment with one of our experienced upper limb consultants. We can also make imaging and outpatient physiotherapy appointments for you.

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020 7079 4344
This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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