The 3 Grades of AC Joint Separation and What They Mean
Perhaps one of the hardest joints in the body to pronounce, the acromioclavicular joint, known as the AC joint, has a pretty important job. Because of the complex nature of this joint, it’s often subjected to separation and injury. We’re discussing what an AC joint separation is, why it happens, and what you can do to help heal yourself if it happens to you.
What is the AC joint?
Simply put, it’s one of the four joints that make up your shoulder. Connecting the acromion of the scapula to the clavicle, the joint and its tissue are responsible for raising your arm above your head, thereby increasing the total range of motion your arm can physically achieve.
With such a complex structure and important role, injuries from misuse or overuse tend to plague the joint. Just think of how many friends and family members you know that used to play baseball, softball, or wrestle and now have serious shoulder issues. It’s a good bet the AC Joint may be involved!
If you’re having issues with your AC joint, the most common injury is AC joint separation. Separation has varying degrees and can be caused by a number of things.
What is an AC joint separation?
An AC Joint separation, often known as a shoulder separation, is a dislocation of the clavicle (collar bone) from the scapula (shoulder blade).
An AC or shoulder separation is very common in contact sports. Football and hockey players, as well as cyclists who flip over their handlebars, are usually the most frequent sufferers of this type of injury.
How can the AC joint Get Separated?
There are 3 grades of AC joint separations, usually all caused by blunt-force trauma. For example: falling on the side of your shoulder by doing badass things, getting slammed by a football player from the side, or extreme over-use like a lifelong baseball pitcher.
- Grade I- mild shoulder separation. This involves a sprain of the AC ligament that does not move the collarbone and looks normal on X-rays.
- Grade II – a tear in the AC ligament, and/or a sprain or slight tear in the coracoclavicular (CC) ligament. This puts the collarbone slightly out of alignment, and you may see a visible bump.
- Grade III- The most severe shoulder separation. This completely tears both the AC and CC ligaments and puts the AC joint noticeably out of position, with a larger bump.
AC Joint Separation Symptoms
- Swelling, tenderness, or pain over/above the joint
- Visible bump above the shoulder
- Loss of strength or motion
- Pain when lying on one's side
- Popping or catching sensations with the movement of the shoulder
- Discomfort with daily activities that stress the shoulder such as reaching, lifting or carrying something.
How to treat an AC Joint Separation
Most of the injuries involving the AC Joint will not require invasive treatment or surgery. The following are what traditional medicine recommends:
Most Grade I – III AC separations are treated successfully with non-surgical treatment that may include:
- Ice to reduce pain and swelling
- Rest and a protective sling until the pain subsides in roughly 1-2 weeks
- Pain and anti-inflammatory medications
- A rehabilitation program to restore normal motion and strength
Shoulder Blade Scooping
The scoop method is a postural cue. This particular movement activates the musculature of the shoulder girdle to help promote proper alignment. What that means in basic terms is this cue strengthens the muscles surrounding the shoulder in order to allow your shoulder to sit in the proper position.
This prevents issues from occurring later on. When shoulders are rounded forward this will put unnecessary strain on the joint leading to discomfort, pain, and inflammation. Over time this can weaken the tissue until one day you toss a ball or slip and land on your shoulder and POW all that unnecessary wear and tear blows out the ligaments connecting your collarbone and shower blade. Then we typically blame the damn ball or the fall when really it was years of improper movement and posture that weakened the tissue.
Learning to properly scoop the shoulder blade is just one of the many parts of the MoveU Program. This is actually one of the parts of the program a lot of people struggle with, which means our computers, desks, and long commutes have weakened our shoulders. But learning to reconnect your brain with each part of your body is one of the key tenants of the MoveU Program. Preventing injury by strengthening your body into alignment is what we’re all about.
Written By David Schroer