Shoulder Separation

Shoulder Separation Overview

A separated shoulder occurs when the acromion and clavicle bone separate. Normally, the two bones articulate to form the shoulder stabilizing and protecting AC joint. A Carolina Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates’ (CONA) should see a separated shoulder as soon as possible. Delaying diagnosis and treatment may make the separation and associated symptoms worse.

Symptoms & Causes

Separated shoulder symptoms include:

  • A visible bump
  • Bruising
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Inability to raise the arm
  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Weakness

A direct fall on the shoulder or a direct blow to the shoulder are the most common separated shoulder causes. Athletes, active individuals and elderly persons are most at risk.


Common Treatments:

After a thorough evaluation, a CONA shoulder specialist may recommend:

  • Immobilization in a comfortable sling
  • Pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Physical therapy
  • Rest and ice

Surgery may be recommended to treat severely separated shoulders. During an AC joint reconstruction, a CONA repairs torn ligaments, repositions the bones and stabilizes the joint.


Finding out exactly how the injury occurred is an important diagnostic step. A CONA specialist asks questions and carefully listens as the patient describes their injury and symptoms. A visual and physical examination of the AC joint and shoulder are then performed. X-rays are taken to view the bones and rule out or diagnose a fracture. An MRI may be done to see if ligaments have been torn.

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