What Treatment Is Available for AC Joint Injuries?

Treatments for AC joint injuries are recommended depending on their severity and categorization, ranging from conservative remedies to invasive surgical solutions. When assessing the damage, physicians will consider a set of characteristics to determine the necessary treatment:

  • Patient's age
  • Source of injury
  • Risk of reinjury
  • Dominant hand
  • Occupational/Athletic activities

Conservative Approach   

In less severe cases where the damage is limited, such as Type I, II, and III AC joint injuries, a light remedial course of treatment may allow a proper function to return. The most common non-surgical treatment methods to manage pain and promote healing include:

  • Shoulder immobilization in a sling
  • Cold packs or ice applied over the joint
  • Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medication

Some patients may be unresponsive to conservative treatments and experience shoulder instability, chronic pain, and significant deformities, requiring surgical intervention to address separations and ligament damage and alleviate lingering symptoms.

Surgical Options

Types IV, V, and VI, along with some Type III injuries, represent more serious separations that can lead to long-term consequences if left untreated. Several surgical treatments are available depending on the incurred damage, such as:

  • AC joint fixation
  • CA ligament transfer
  • CC interval reconstruction

Arthroscopic surgery is preferred for its less invasive approach and faster healing timeframe. Small incisions in the shoulder allow orthopedic surgeons to access and visualize the damaged area on a screen using a minute camera with a light source. 

With the help of specialized narrow tools, surgeons secure the collarbone back in its regular position using strong sutures to reattach it to the shoulder blade. This method usually involves CC ligament reconstruction as well, using a replacement graft from a donor.

Arthroscopic surgery generally has favorable outcomes and is done on an outpatient basis, meaning that individuals can return home on the same day as the surgery and focus on recovery. Physical therapy helps patients regain functionality; a full recovery is usually expected after 3 months.