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Shoulder Separation

A shoulder separation (acromioclavicular joint injury) occurs when the outer end of the collarbone (clavicle) separates from the end (acromion) of the shoulder blade because of torn ligaments. This injury occurs most often from a blow to the top of the shoulder or a fall onto the shoulder.

Signs and symptoms of a separated shoulder include:

  • Severe pain at the moment the injury occurs.
  • Limited movement in the shoulder area (because of pain, not weakness).
  • Swelling and bruising.
  • Possible deformity. The outer end of the collarbone may look out of place. Or there may be a bump on top of the shoulder.

Treatment may include applying ice and keeping the shoulder still (immobilized) with a sling or wrap. Medicine to relieve pain, inflammation, and swelling may be used. Early physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder and get range of motion back is important. It helps with recovery and helps prevent frozen shoulder (adhesive capsulitis). Normal exercises and activities can be done as the pain and other symptoms go away. Sometimes surgery may be needed to repair torn ligaments.

Healing may take 2 to 10 weeks depending on how bad the injury is.

Last Revised: August 29, 2011

Author: Healthwise Staff

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & Patrick J. McMahon, MD - Orthopedic Surgery

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