Will my AC joint ever heal?

Answered by Willie Powers

Recovery from an AC joint separation depends on the severity or grade of the injury. The AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint, is located at the top of the shoulder where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the shoulder blade (scapula). When this joint is injured, it can cause pain, swelling, and limited range of motion.

In a Grade I AC separation, the ligaments connecting the collarbone and shoulder blade are stretched or partially torn. This is considered the mildest form of AC joint injury. With proper treatment, such as rest, ice, and physical therapy, most people can regain full motion and function within 10 to 14 days. It is important to follow the recommended treatment plan and avoid any activities that may aggravate the injury during this time.

A Grade II AC separation involves a partial tear of the ligaments, causing more significant pain, swelling, and deformity of the joint. Recovery from this grade of injury usually takes longer, typically around four to six weeks. In addition to rest, ice, and physical therapy, a supportive sling or brace may be recommended to help stabilize the joint and promote healing. Gradually, as the ligaments heal and strengthen, the range of motion and function of the joint can improve.

A Grade III AC separation is the most severe form of injury, involving a complete tear of the ligaments. This can result in a noticeable deformity of the joint, with the collarbone appearing higher than normal. Recovery from a Grade III separation may take six to eight weeks or longer. In some cases, surgery may be necessary to repair the torn ligaments and restore proper alignment of the joint. After surgery, a period of immobilization and rehabilitation will be required to regain full motion and function.

It is important to note that every individual and injury is unique, and recovery times can vary. Factors such as age, overall health, and adherence to the recommended treatment plan can also influence the healing process. It is essential to consult with a healthcare professional, such as an orthopedic specialist or physical therapist, for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan.

In my experience as a healthcare professional, I have seen individuals with AC joint injuries successfully recover and regain full function of their shoulder. With proper care, including rest, therapy, and following medical advice, the AC joint can heal over time. It is crucial to be patient and committed to the rehabilitation process.

To summarize, AC joint injuries can heal, but the length of time needed for recovery depends on the grade of the injury. Grade I injuries typically take 10 to 14 days, Grade II injuries take four to six weeks, and Grade III injuries may take six to eight weeks or longer. Following the recommended treatment plan, including rest, therapy, and potential surgery, can help promote healing and restore full motion and function to the AC joint.