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Treatment. Acromioclavicular (AC) Joint Separation

By AGE2B team
March 8, 2022

AC Joint Separation Medications and Other Remedies

AC joint separation injuries can be extremely painful. Therefore, the first goal of treatment is to reduce pain. The best way to do this is by placing the affected arm in a sling to immobilize it, applying ice to the area every few hours for about 20 minutes. Taking pain medications also helps decrease discomfort in patients with AC joint separation. The severity of the pain of such injury depends on the seriousness of the separation.

As soon as the pain allows, it’s important to start moving the elbow, wrist, and fingers to prevent them from becoming stiff. In addition, it is essential to prevent a “frozen” or stiffened shoulder, so moving the shoulder is important as well. A physician determines how much and when the patient should start moving the shoulder. It also is dependent on the extent of the AC joint separation injury.

As the pain of an AC joint separation injury starts to decrease, movement becomes easier. The length of time for full recovery depends on how badly the joint was injured. It typically takes a Grade 3 AC joint separation from 6 to 8 weeks to heal. A Grade 1 injury will usually resolve within a few weeks.

Treatment of a Grade 3 AC joint separation varies. It was shown that these injuries heal at about the same rate and with equal success, regardless of whether surgery was performed. However, people who have surgery for a Grade 3 AC joint separation may still have a visible “bump” at the site of the dislocation. Moreover, many patients who have surgery often require a second operation later on.

AC Joint Separation Surgery

Surgery to repair an AC joint separation usually starts with the surgeon putting the AC joint separation back into alignment. Sometimes surgical fixation devices are used to hold the collarbone in place while healing takes place. A screw may be used to repair the AC joint separation. In this case, the surgeon inserts it through the collarbone into the coracoid process of the shoulder blade. Sometimes doctors use surgical tape to join the coracoid process and the collarbone. Sometimes they can use sutures to reinforce and repair torn ligaments.

When a surgeon uses a screw to repair an AC joint separation, a second surgery is typically required to remove it once healing has occurred. If the screw is not removed, it will likely break.


Following surgery for an AC joint separation injury, you might have to wear a sling for a few days to protect and help support your shoulder. Most surgeons recommend physical or occupational therapy to help patients with recovery and rehabilitation. Most of the early therapy treatments may focus mainly on pain control and reducing the swelling caused by AC joint separation surgery. Therapists may suggest electrical stimulation treatments and will probably recommend applying ice to the surgical area. To help ease pain and muscle spasms, therapists sometimes use massage therapy.


Following surgery for an AC joint separation injury, it’s typical to wait about four weeks before beginning exercises to the shoulder. Patients usually start from passive exercise. In this type of exercise, your shoulder joint is moved by the therapist while your muscles relax. The joint is stretched gradually. The therapist will probably teach you how to do these exercises yourself. Alternatively, the specialist can train a family member or friend to assist you.

Activity therapy can begin when the ligaments have had time to heal following an operation for AC joint separation. It usually happens about 6 to 8 weeks following surgery for an AC injury. Active exercise helps gain movement in the shoulder and builds strength in the muscles lost after surgery. For example, the patient may firstly start with isometric exercises. These exercise the muscles without stressing the AC joint.

The patient can start active strengthening exercises at about 12 weeks after AC joint separation surgery. These exercises will likely focus on building strength in the muscles of the rotator cuff and shoulder blade. It’s essential to do your exercises and follow the routine outlined by your therapist. In addition to exercise, your therapist will work with you to find safer and easier ways to go about your daily tasks. The specialist will also propose activities that are less likely to stress your shoulder and may help avoid problems in the future.

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