So is a “separated shoulder” the same as an “ac joint separation”? Sometimes we do hear people refer to their shoulder injury as a “separated shoulder” and others might refer to it as an “AC Joint Separation”. So the simple answer is they are both the same type of shoulder injury, however there is a significant difference if it is a complete separated shoulder or incomplete.

Complete Separated Shoulder vs. Incomplete AC Joint Separation

Complete Separated Shoulder (Types 3, 4, 5, or 6)

Type 5 Separated Shoulder X-ray

An acute separated shoulder usually results from a direct fall to the superior part of the acromion (point of the shoulder). This severe direct force on the supporting ligaments of the AC joint causes these ligaments to fail resulting in a separation of the AC joint. In severe cases, both the acromioclavicular ligaments as well as the coracoclavicular ligaments are ruptured and there is an immediate deformity that occurs. Without surgery this deformity remains permanent as the entire weight of the arm continues to pull the acromial side of the injury downward and the trapezius muscle pulls the clavicular side upward. Depending on the severity of the injury this deformity can be quite dramatic as the joint can be pulled apart as much as two inches.

Initially the primary symptoms of this injury are pain, deformity, and weakness.

Later Symptoms for a complete AC Joint Separation

After the symptoms of the initial trauma subside many patients will go on to have pain-free and satisfactory function of the shoulder, although the deformity will always be present. In a substantial percentage of cases, however, the mismatch of the joint will create ongoing and disabling symptoms. This includes localized pain, painful clicking and popping, and shoulder fatigue.

High demand patients such as athletes (professional and recreational), those involved in manual labor, or repetitive tasks may notice either a generalized weakness or lack of endurance. While physical therapy may overcome some of these symptoms, the permanent derangement of the anatomy leaves the shoulder function compromised for many patients.

What you should do if you suffer a complete separated shoulder?

It is critical that you have your ac joint separation looked at by a shoulder specialist like Dr. Steven Struhl as soon as possible. Due to his vast experience since 1991, Dr. Struhl has developed a separated shoulder surgical technique known as a “Closed-Loop Double Endobutton” that has proven superior to traditional surgical methods, which he even received a U.S. patent for this groundbreaking procedure. This method has proven superior in recovery time and improved range of motion of the shoulder compared to other methods.

Incomplete Separated Shoulder (Types 1 and 2)

In less severe cases the anatomy is left either somewhat (Type 2) or completely (Type 1) intact. Any amount of deformity even in incomplete ruptures will be permanent for the reasons mentioned above. Pain can be quite severe even in cases with little deformity; however, simple treatment with a sling for comfort, ice, rest, and early physical therapy will result in resolution in most cases.

So if you suffer from either an incomplete or a complete separated shoulder you realize that pain can be quite severe and steps should be taken to correct your separated shoulder. You should schedule a consultation with Dr. Steven Struhl in either his Manhattan or Westchester County offices so you can regain the use of your shoulder again without pain.

Posted on behalf of Steven Struhl MD