AC Joint Separation

AC Joint Separation, Knee and Shoulder InstituteAn AC joint separation is an injury to the ligament that holds the acromioclavicular (AC) joint together at the top of the shoulder. A common cause of this injury is a fall onto an outstretched arm. The severity of this joint sprain can from grade 1 to grade 6. Timely treatment and support to the joint is vital to avoid shoulder deformity and other long term problems.

Symptoms may include pain at the end of the collar bone on the top of the shoulder. Pain will worsen when trying to move the arm overhead and there is often swelling. A deformity may be noticed in more severe injuries in the form of an obvious lump on top of the shoulder joint.

Sagacious, profound, and board certified orthopedic surgeons at the Thomas & Bigler Knee and Shoulder Institute provide treatments for AC joint separation to patients in Las Vegas, Nevada, and surrounding locations.



In case of an AC joint injury, the immediate step should be to provide first aid and apply the PRICE principles of rest, ice, compression and elevation. It is important to apply ice therapy and compression wrap as soon as possible to mitigate pain and swelling. The shoulder should be immobilized by wearing a sling to take the weight of the arm.

The surgeon may prescribe NSAIDs to treat pain and inflammation, while they evaluate the extent of injury. Ultrasound for minor injuries or TENS for pain relief may be used in more severe cases.


AC Joint Taping

An AC joint can fix and support the joint into the correct position to assist with healing. Taping may be needed for two to three weeks. The first step should be to apply two or three strips of 2.5 cm zinc oxide tape over the shoulder top that covers the AC joint. This will create an anchor for the support strip.

The surgeon would then pass a support strip of tape from the front of the shoulder, down the side of the arm applying tension to the tape. Thereafter, they will pass it below the elbow and back up to the top. This support strip will help pull the AC joint down. The support strip will then be secured with an elastic adhesive bandage. Finally, they will trim the lower part of the support taping away to finish.

The patient should gradually perform shoulder exercises recommended for AC joint sprain rehabilitation as pain improves.



If the AC joint injury is graded as grade 1, 2 or 3, surgery is often avoided and more conservative treatment approaches can be adopted. However, if a grade 3 sprain fails to respond to conservative treatment, or the injury is of grade 4, 5 or 6, the patient will typically require surgery.  

If the patient does not seek timely treatment for AC joint separation, or allows the healing to occur out of place, it could increase the wear and tear on the joint, causing future problems. Board certified orthopedic surgeons Dr. Steven Thomas and Dr. Gregory Bigler provide AC Joint injury treatments to patients in Las Vegas, Nevada, and other towns and neighborhoods in this region of the southwest.

If you would like to schedule an appointment or learn more about the Knee and Shoulder Institute procedures & treatments performed by Las Vegas, Nevada board certified surgeons Steven C. Thomas, MD and Gregory T. Bigler, MD. call (702) 933-9393; Physical Therapy (702) 933-9393.

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