What is a Shoulder Separation?
A shoulder separation is a coraco-clavicular ligament injury that raises the end of the collarbone, or in layman’s terms, it’s an injury to the ligaments that attach your collarbone to your shoulder. The injury may be mild with a simple stretching of the ligaments, or it may be severe in which the ligaments have actually torn.
This injury is different from a dislocated shoulder, which occurs when the upper arm bone, or humerus, detaches from the shoulder, although the tearing or overextending of ligaments is the ultimate cause of pain in both.
If the injury is mild, you may not realize what the pain in your shoulder area is at first. Common symptoms of separated shoulder include:
Persistent pain and tenderness in the shoulder, particularly near the collarbone
Shoulder or arm weakness
Limited arm movement and shoulder rotation
Bruising or swelling of the shoulder and/or collarbone
A bump on your shoulder or a risen collarbone
If you have any of the listed symptoms, chances are you have a separated shoulder and should see an orthopaedic specialist immediately.
Your separated shoulder was most likely caused by a severe blow to the shoulder or a fall in which you landed on your shoulder that caused your ligaments to hyperextend or tear. You are at increased risk for a separated shoulder if you lead a very active lifestyle, including contact sports such as football, hockey, or gymnastics, or if you are in poor physical condition.
For mild separated shoulder injuries, surgery may not be necessary. Your orthopaedic specialist may prescribe a sling, ice packs, and non-prescription pain relievers.
If pain persists following non-surgical treatments, or the injury was particularly severe, surgery may be required in an attempt to reconstruct the ligaments, trim the end of the collarbone, and/or reconnect the shoulder and collarbone. Physical therapy will most likely be required following the procedure.
Most mild cases of separated shoulder, if treated quickly and properly, will heal fully. However, in some severe cases, the ligaments that connect your shoulder and collarbone will never be the same again, resulting in limited movement and significant displacement of the collarbone. Other complications include arthritis or a need to reconstruct other parts of the shoulder, such as the rotator cuff. Even with complications, however, most patients who receive the proper care receive full or nearly full restoration of shoulder movement.
A shoulder separation is a painful experience, but with the proper attention, you shouldn’t have any problem getting back on your feet.