Have you recently been in a high impact situation where you hurt your shoulder, from maybe playing a sport or being in an accident? If you have and you start to experience pain and swelling at the top of your shoulder, don’t be quick to write it off. These symptoms, along with limited range of motion in your arm and sensitivity where the collarbone meets the shoulder blade, could mean you have a more serious issue – shoulder separation.
Shoulder separation happens when trauma damages the ligaments around the AC (acromioclavicular) joint, where the top of the shoulder blade bone connects to the collarbone. This injury is common in active, young adults and is different than shoulder dislocation where your upper arm bone pulls out of the shoulder joint.
If you think your shoulder might be separated, you should schedule an appointment with your health care provider right away. Here are some possible treatment options for a shoulder separation diagnosis:
- Resting the joint with a sling or other support
- Applying cold packs
- Taking pain relief medication
- Trying rehabilitation exercises
- Needing surgery
You might need surgery if your injury is severe enough. Your recovery time will vary based on the severity of your injury. Mild injuries generally take a few weeks to heal while more critical ones can take months. If you are an athlete, this can be complicated, and you may need longer recovery time. In some cases, patients can even develop arthritis because of their injury. So how can you manage shoulder separation? Is there anything you can do to prevent it in the first place?
Unfortunately, these types of injuries are as difficult to prevent as the accidents themselves, but you can take precautions. Always wear a seat belt in the car and use appropriate protective gear while playing a sport or being active. If you do experience shoulder separation, your doctor will help you with managing it and advise you on how to reduce your risk of further injury.