What is Shoulder Separation?

Shoulder separation is not really an injury to the shoulder joint. It is a condition that involves the acromioclavicular joint (also known as the AC joint), the joint at the top of the shoulder.

In a mild case of shoulder separation, the ligaments are just stretched. But in severe ones, the ligaments are torn.


The most common cause of shoulder separation is a fall directly into the shoulder. This kind of fall injures the ligaments that surround and support the AC joint. If the force of the fall is severe, the ligaments could get torn, causing a separation of the collarbone and the shoulder blade.

Symptoms of Shoulder Separation

Pain is the most common symptom of shoulder separation. Aside from pain, there can also be swelling and bruises on top of the shoulder, tenderness or soreness felt at the site of the AC joint, and a lump pointing upward on top of the shoulder.

If there is nerve damage, there can be numbness or muscle weakness in the shoulder or affected arm. And in severe cases, there can be limited shoulder movement.

Diagnosing Shoulder Separation

The diagnosis for shoulder separation is only made after careful medical history taking and physical exam.

X-rays are usually ordered as part of the process. Sometimes, the doctor will ask the patient to hold a weight in the hand to help confirm the diagnosis.

How It Is Treated

Most people with shoulder separation experience a full recovery after conservative treatment. This may include over-the-counter pain medications, physical therapy, rest, and application of cold compress.

If pain persists or if there is severe separation or fracture of the collarbone, then surgery may be recommended. Surgery can help in stabilizing the injured bones and reconnect torn ligaments.

Rehabilitation is needed for those with shoulder separation, whether they heal through conservative methods or surgery. The rehabilitation can help in restoring and rebuilding strength, motion, and flexibility.