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Separated AC Joint

Your acromioclavicular, or AC, joint is the connection point where all parts of your shoulder meet and move together as one.

The AC joint is where the front of your collarbone meets your shoulder blade on the top portion of your shoulder joint.  There are quite a few ligaments that run from your collar bone to your scapula to strengthen this connection. 

How does a AC joint separation happen?

An injury to an AC joint usually happens from:

  • a direct fall onto a shoulder
  • falling while extending your arm.

    You can usually see this happen in rugby or football when the quarterback gets tackled forcing their entire weight driving their shoulder into the ground (this always makes me cringe). This direct trauma sprains the AC joint ligament and connecting ligaments, and can even result in a fracture of the collar bone! 

An injury to the acromioclavicular joint

The sprains are listed by grades and range from grade 1, the least severe, to grade 5 the most severe, which requires surgery. With an AC joint sprain physicians usually take x-rays, which can find AC joint sprains with grade 2 and above. Usually if your sprain is grade 1, grade 2 and sometimes even grade 3, you should be able to rehabilitate the shoulder without need for surgical intervention.

Recovery time for a separated shoulder:

A separated AC joint recovery time is usually:

An aerial view of the acromioclavicular joint
  • 2-4 weeks for grade 1
  • 4-6 weeks for grade 2
  • 6-12 weeks for grade 3.

AC joint issues are usually aggravated by overhead motions, reaching across the body, bench press motions, or dips. That means if you have this type of injury you should AVOID upper body strength training until you are fully recovered. Nothing is more frustrating than thinking you are good to go, jumping back into your gym too early, and being out for longer. 


Can physical therapy help a separated shoulder?

The short answer is - Yes!  Your physical therapist can evaluate what grade of separation you have initially.  From there, we can guide you through this recovery process, continually assess how your injury is healing, and progress you accordingly so you don’t have to worry about jumping in too early!  Reach out on our contact page to ask about more information or schedule an appointment for an assessment.

Are you dealing with another injury?  Take a look at our general shoulder pain blog to understand more about your shoulder!