AC Joint Injuries

Shoulder Pain: AC Joint Injuries

As a physiotherapist, I see a lot of shoulder problems, and AC joint injuries are a common pathology that comes into the clinic (particularly during footy season). The AC joint, short for acromioclavicular joint, sits where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the shoulder blade (acromion). It’s a small but important joint that helps distribute force across the shoulder and keeps everything stable. It is our only bony attachment linking the arm to the torso.

Unfortunately, the AC joint is susceptible to injury, especially from falls or direct blows to the shoulder. There are different types of AC injuries, as seen in the schema below:

The prognosis varies for each type of AC injury, ranging from a week or two for mild injuries, to surgery and a prolonged rehab period for the more severe grades. The good news is, for most of these injuries physiotherapy can be incredibly effective in getting you back to normal pain-free movement and full strength, without needing surgical intervention.

If you’ve taken a tumble or whacked your shoulder, here are some signs and symptoms that might indicate that you’ve suffered an AC joint injury:

  • Pain: This is usually the most obvious symptom, located at the top of your shoulder. It might be worse with certain movements, like reaching overhead or across your body.
  • Tenderness: Touching the bony point at the top of your shoulder might be quite uncomfortable.
  • Swelling: The area around the joint might be puffy.
  • Deformity: In some cases, the force of the injury can cause a visible step where the bones have separated slightly.
  • Limited movement: Your shoulder movement might be restricted, making daily activities difficult.

If you suspect an AC joint injury, the best course of action is to see a physiotherapist for a thorough assessment and accurate diagnosis. Once the diagnosis has been established, your physio will develop a treatment and rehabilitation plan with you which is tailored to your deficits and goals. Treatment for an AC joint injury often involves:

  • Pain relief: Techniques like manual therapy, ice, anti-inflammatories and taping can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Restoring movement: Gentle exercises will help you regain your full range of motion in your shoulder.
  • Strengthening the joint: A personalized exercise program will target the muscles that support the AC joint, improving stability and control through range of movement.
  • Return to activity: We’ll work with you to get you back to doing the activities you love, pain-free.
  • Specialist Referral: For severe injuries, a referral is required to a specialist in order to assess for potential surgical intervention (although this is relatively uncommon)

AC joint injuries can be frustrating to deal with in the early stages, often with high pain levels and significant range of motion restriction even in more mild injuries. Early intervention is key to a smooth recovery. So, if you’re experiencing shoulder pain after a fall or impact, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Befit Training Physiotherapy. With the right treatment plan, you’ll be back to moving freely in no time.


Tom Eather – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Tom Eather – BeFit Training Physio Double Bay

Tom Eather, a Senior Physiotherapist based in Double Bay, Sydney, offers effective treatment for musculoskeletal problems. With personalized assessments and evidence-based rehabilitation programs, Tom addresses the root cause of injuries to achieve long-lasting results. Specializing in Golf and sports injury physiotherapy, he emphasizes comprehensive healing over temporary fixes. To book a consultation, click the link below.

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