Physical Therapy for Shoulder Separation
North Boulder Physical Therapy, Boulder, Colorado
If you’ve experienced this injury, physical therapy for shoulder separation or AC separation needs to be implemented properly to ensure no further issues. At our North Boulder Physical Therapy offices, we’ve helped a number of patients who have suffered a shoulder separation, one of the most common sports injuries.
How Does Shoulder Separation Happen?
Frequent in contact sports like football, hockey and rugby – as well as physically demanding sports like biking, snowboarding and skiing, injury to the AC area is usually caused by an upended fall. During the fall, your arm is held close to the body so that the top of the shoulder takes the brunt of the impact and pushes down the shoulder blade. Because your collarbone is attached to your rib cage under the neck, it cannot move with the shoulder blade. The result is the stretching and tearing of your AC joint ligaments.
What Happens with a Shoulder Separation?
As soon as you’re injured, you’ll immediately feel pain in your shoulder and experience limited shoulder motion. Bruising and swelling may occur, sometimes causing the shoulder-end of the collarbone to look distended. In some cases, an x-ray (with a weight held) may be ordered by your physician to check for an actual AC joint separation or a broken collarbone.
Let’s look at your anatomy to break this down further.
At the tip of your shoulder, the collarbone (clavicle) connects to your shoulder blade (scapula) at the AC joint. Also in your shoulder, the clavicle attaches to a bony structure on the shoulder blade called the coracoid process. Supporting the joints are tough connective tissues called ligaments. Acromioclavicular ligaments surround where the acromion of the scapula and clavicle meet. The other ligaments are called coracoclavicular.
Now, you also have a pad of cartilage within the joint between the clavicle and the acromion. Its job is to allow gliding and twisting motions of one bone on the other. In a shoulder separation injury where the ligaments are completely torn, there is nothing holding the collarbone against the acromion. It can then lift out of place and damage this important cartilage.