Shoulder separation is not an injury to the main shoulder joint itself. It is an injury to the top of the shoulder where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the top of the shoulder blade (acromion of the scapula).
It is not the same as a shoulder dislocation.
Most shoulder separation injuries are caused by fall onto the shoulder. This causes a tear in the tissue that connects the collarbone and top of the shoulder blade. These tears can come from a:
The injury can make your shoulder look abnormal. This can be from the end of a bone sticking up or your shoulder hanging lower than normal.
Pain is usually at the very top of your shoulder.
Your health care provider may have you hold onto a weight while he or she examines you to see if your collarbone sticks out. An x-ray of your shoulder may help diagnose a shoulder separation.
Most people recover from this injury without surgery in 2 to 12 weeks. You will be treated with ice, medicines, a sling, and then exercises as you heal more.
Your recovery may be slower if you have:
You may need surgery right away if you have the following symptoms:
Make an ice pack by putting ice in a zip lock plastic bag and wrapping a cloth around it. Do not put the bag of ice directly on your skin. It could damage your skin.
Ice the area every 3 to 4 hours for 20 minutes each time. Do this for 2 days or longer.
For pain, you can take a type of medicine called NSAIDs. You do not need a prescription for these.
You may be given a shoulder sling to use for a few weeks.
If you continue to have pain, your health care provider will probably ask you to come back in about 1 week to decide if you need to:
Call your health care provider or go to the emergency room right away if you have:
Separated shoulder; Acromioclavicular joint separation; A/C separation
Acromioclavicular (shoulder) separation. In: Buttaravoli P, ed. Minor Emergencies. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2007:chap 96.
Updated by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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