Separated shoulder

A separated shoulder is not a direct injury to the shoulder as the name specifies, it is the injury to the ligaments that holds your collar bone (clavicle) to the shoulder blade (acromion). Minor form of injury just stretch the ligaments, but in severe form of injury the ligaments are totally ruptured indicating a medical emergency.

This condition is totally different from shoulder dislocation where the shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint) dislocates from its original position.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of separated shoulder includes a physical examination and an imaging test such as X-ray. During the physical examination, your doctor evaluates the severity and location of pain. X-ray is performed to confirm the diagnosis. In most cases, X-ray appears to be normal in the early stages. Incase of any deformity it easy to confirm the diagnosis and due to the clear appearance in the X-ray.

Your doctor may classify separated shoulder into six types based on the severity of the damage ranging from small injury to the severe trauma or fracture of the ligaments.

Causes and risk factors

If your shoulder is separated you may experience symptoms such as shoulder pain and weakness, bruising or swelling at the affected area, restricted movement of the shoulder, popping sensation with slight movement.

The most common cause of separated shoulder is a direct fall onto the shoulder. A hard blow to the acromioclavicular joint also causes separated shoulder.

Some people have persistent pain even with the minor deformity. This could be due to the development of arthritis or abnormal contact between the bone ends or at the joint during motion.

Participating in contact sports such as football, hockey, and wrestling or sports such as gymnastics and volleyball that involve falling also increases the risk of separated shoulder.

Symptoms

If your shoulder is separated you may experience symptoms such as shoulder pain and weakness, bruising or swelling at the affected area, restricted movement of the shoulder, popping sensation with slight movement.

Treatment

The treatment for separated shoulder involves conservative therapy or non-surgical therapy such as resting, use of ice and pain relievers. In most of the cases, the shoulder regains its full function within few weeks. In the case of severe deformity or if the pain persists after conservative therapy, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Non-surgical treatment

Non-surgical treatment involves using pain relievers, taking adequate rest, using ice packs, and physical therapy. Pain relievers or over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen are used to reduce the pain. Avoid the activities that may increase your shoulder pain. You may also immobilize the arm with a sling to reduce pressure on the shoulder and promote healing until the pain subsides.

Use of ice packs every four hours for 15 to 20 min can reduce pain and swelling. Physical therapy involving stretching and strengthening exercises can help to regain normal motion flexibility and strength of your shoulder.

If the pain and discomfort is not relieved with non-surgical treatment options, then your doctor would recommend surgery. Surgery involves trimming back the end of the collarbone to prevent its rubbing against the shoulder blade. If there is a severe deformity, your surgeon may reconstruct the ligaments.

After the surgery, your doctor will advise you to wear a sling to immobilize and protect the shoulder. After a few days of the surgery, your doctor recommends ice therapy, electrical stimulation, or massage to alleviate the pain. After four weeks, stretching and strengthening exercises must be performed to improve the movement of the joint.

You can reduce the risk of shoulder separation by following some simple tips which includes:

  • You must perform stretching before practising exercises
  • You must stop any kind of physical activity if you feel any shoulder pain
  • You must apply ice pack to the shoulder after any physical activity in case of a history of shoulder separation
  • You must use protective padding to protect from falls