Shoulder Separation | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine

Shoulder Separation

Overview and Facts about Shoulder Separation

Shoulder separation is an injury to the ligaments that are connected to and help stabilize the AC joint (where the collarbone joins the highest point of the shoulder blade). Injury is most often caused by a fall onto the shoulder and can be mild to severe, depending on the damage to the ligaments.

When the ligaments are sprained or torn, it may cause the AC joint to separate. Treatment will depend on the extent of the injury. 

Symptoms and Signs of Shoulder Separation

Symptoms of a separated shoulder may be mild to severe, depending on how much damage has been done to the ligaments that surround the AC joint.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the affected shoulder
  • Swelling around the shoulder joint
  • Bruising
  • Weakness in the shoulder and limited movement
  • Visible deformity or asymmetry 

Causes and Risk Factors of Shoulder Separation

A fall directly onto the shoulder is the most common cause of shoulder separation. A direct blow to the shoulder may also cause this injury.

Athletes in contact sports (football, hockey) or sports that may involve falls (cycling, motorcycling, volleyball, downhill skiing or gymnastics) are at a higher risk for this injury. 

Tests and Diagnosis for Shoulder Separation

Your doctor will examine your shoulder and check for signs of pain, tenderness and deformity. If the injury is not extensive, he/she may order X-rays to see the damage to the ligaments since it may be hard to see a visible deformity. 

Treatment and Diagnosis for Shoulder Separation

Depending on the severity of the injury, a separated shoulder can be treated with both non-surgical and surgical options.

For milder injuries, your doctor may recommend rest, a sling, ice packs and/or anti-inflammatory medication to heal the shoulder joint and manage pain.

For more extensive/severe injuries, your doctor may recommend surgery to reconstruct damaged ligaments to stabilize the AC joint.

Physical therapy is important to recover from this injury no matter the severity of damage to improve strength, flexibility and range of motion.