Perhaps the most common traumatic injury to an athlete’s shoulder is known as a shoulder separation. This occurs at the acromioclavicular joint (A/C joint) where the collarbone and shoulder meet. This joint is on top of your shoulder and should be differentiated from the glenohumeral joint (the ball and socket joint).
An A/C separation occurs when you land on your shoulder with your arm at its side or you are hit from the side. A hockey player being checked into the boards is a common scenario.
- Ache with overhead and cross-body activity
- Popping and clicking
- Rotator cuff tendinitis
- Trouble sleeping
Though severe separations do occur, much more commonly milder injuries occur which are treated with rest and a gradual return to activity as tolerated. The extent of your injury as well as the level of athletic participation you are interested in returning to will determine your return. It may be helpful to work with a physical therapist or trainer to make your recovery smoother. Treatment begins by allowing the pain to subside and then by gradually increasing motion as tolerated. Full recovery is often achieved by six weeks.
Alternative Treatment Options
When serious separations occur, X-ray examination is recommended to help determine the extent of injury and whether associated clavicle fractures exist. These more serious separations occasionally need to be surgically repaired. Overhead athletes and heavy laborers are two groups where surgical intervention is more commonly needed. Care can be as simple as removing a small piece of the end of the clavicle to as extensive as reducing, stabilizing, and repairing the joint position and ligaments.