A shoulder separation occurs at the acromioclavicular joint, where the collarbone connects with the shoulder blade. Ligaments connect bones. When the ligaments that hold the acromioclavicular joint together are overstretched or torn, the collarbone may be displaced. Shoulder Separation is also called a shoulder sprain or AC separation.
A blow to the shoulder may cause shoulder separation. Falling on an outstretched hand can also jolt the shoulder joint and cause ligaments to tear. Contact sports put one at risk of this type of injury. (Not all shoulder sprains are severe enough to cause displacement of the collarbone.)
Shoulder separation results in severe pain when injury occurs and inflammation. In some cases there is lump on top the shoulder. A shoulder separation can be seen on an X-ray.
Ice should be applied as soon as possible to relieve inflammation and pain. Apply ice for 20 minutes every three to four hours for the first couple of days. See a doctor immediately. There may be a fracture. Do not apply ice directly to the skin. Wrap the ice in cloth.
The shoulder must be rested. Wearing a sling helps the ligaments heal; the length of time depends upon the severity of the separation. Immobilizing the shoulder causes the muscles to weaken. When the pain and inflammation subsides, exercises to rebuild strength in the shoulder are important. Immobilizing the shoulder for a prolonged period of time may also lead to frozen shoulder. Stretching exercises can help prevent this condition. A physician or physical therapist can determine when exercises can safely begin.
Healing time depends on how severely the ligaments are torn. Mild cases may heal in a couple of weeks. Most shoulder separations heal within 2 to 3 months.
In severe cases, surgery to repair ligaments may be required.