A Practical Guide to Separated Shoulders in 2022


It’s been a little over a year since separated shoulders became the most talked-about injury in sports. In this blog post, we will take a look at what separated shoulders are, how they are treated, and how you can return to your sport of choice as quickly as possible.

What Is A Separated Shoulder?

The term “separated shoulder” is used to describe an injury to the acromioclavicular (AC) joint. The AC joint is the point where the clavicle (collarbone) meets the acromion (the bony projection at the top of the shoulder). A separated shoulder occurs when there is a dislocation of the clavicle from the acromion.

There are three grades of separated shoulders, with grade III being the most severe. Grade I and II separations involve stretching or partial tearing of the ligaments that hold the clavicle in place. In a grade III separation, there is complete tearing of these ligaments, as well as damage to surrounding muscles and tendons.

Symptoms of a separated shoulder can include pain, swelling, bruising, and difficulty moving the arm. Grade III separations may also involve numbness or tingling in the arm and fingers.

How Is Separated Shoulder Treated?

Treatment for a separated shoulder will depend on the severity of the injury. For grade I and II separations, treatment typically involves immobilization of the arm in a sling for four to six weeks. Physical therapy may also be prescribed to help stretch and strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the joint.

Grade III separations may require surgery to repair damaged ligaments or muscles. After surgery, the arm will be placed in a sling or splint for four to six weeks. Physical therapy will also be started early to help prevent the formation of scar tissue.

Self-Care At Home

There are some things you can do at home to help care for your separated shoulder, regardless of the grade.

  • Rest: It is important to rest your shoulder as much as possible to allow it to heal. Avoid activities that require use of the arm, such as lifting, reaching, or pushing.
  • Ice: Applying ice to the injured area can help reduce pain and swelling. Do this for 15-20 minutes every few hours for the first few days after the injury.
  • Compression: Wearing an elastic compression bandage can also help reduce swelling. Be sure not to wrap it too tightly, as this could cause additional pain.
  • Elevation: Keeping your arm elevated above heart level will also help reduce swelling. Try to do this for at least 30 minutes several times a day.

When To Consult To A Doctor

If you are experiencing any of the following, it is important to consult with a doctor:

  • Intense pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter medication
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm or fingers
  • Inability to move your arm or shoulder
  • Swelling that does not improve after 24 hours
  • Bruising that spreads beyond the injured area
  • A visible deformity in the shoulder area
  • Recovery Time

After sustaining a separated shoulder, it is important to give your body time to heal. Depending on the grade of separation, recovery time can range from four to twelve weeks. Grade III separations typically take on the longer end of this spectrum. It is important not to return to activity too soon, as this could further damage the joint and surrounding tissues.

Returning To Activity After Separated Shoulder

The length of time it takes to return to activity after a separated shoulder will depend on the severity of the injury. For grade I and II separations, most people can return to their previous level of activity within four to six weeks. Grade III separations may take eight to twelve weeks or longer to heal.

If you have had surgery, your doctor will give you specific instructions on when you can return to activity. It is important that you follow these instructions carefully in order to avoid re-injuring your shoulder.

To help prevent separated shoulders, it is important to stretch and strengthen the muscles and ligaments around the shoulder joint. A physical therapist can help design a stretching and strengthening program specifically for you. Wearing a shoulder brace or support during contact sports can also help reduce your risk of injury.

Separated shoulders are a common injury, but with proper treatment and rehabilitation, most people can return to their previous level of activity. If you think you may have a separated shoulder, be sure to see your doctor so that you can get started on the road to recovery.

If you have any questions about separated shoulders or other orthopedic injuries, please contact our office. We would be happy to answer any of your questions or concerns.

Thank you for reading! We hope this article was helpful. Please feel free to share it with anyone who may find it useful. For more articles like this, be sure to check out our posts.

Are You Looking for a Sports Medicine Physician You Can Trust?

Dr. Chen sees patients at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital Center for Sports Medicine in Walnut Creek, California. He is a board-certified Pediatrician and Sports Medicine Doctor that specializes in the non-operative medical treatment of a wide variety of various musculoskeletal conditions.  Dr. Chen graduated from St. George’s University School of Medicine and went on to complete Pediatric residency training at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey (Rutgers), then went on to fellowship training in Sports Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, one of the perennially top ranked children’s hospitals in the nation. There he provided sideline coverage for NCAA Division I athletics at the University of Cincinnati and Miami University (OH). Since graduating, Dr. Chen has continued his love of sports coverage by volunteering for the San Francisco Marathon, the San Francisco Giant Race, and as the team physician for Northgate High School in Walnut Creek. Being a part of The Center for Sports Medicine allows Dr. Chen quick access to a multidisciplinary team of orthopedic surgeons, podiatrists, physiatrists, and physical therapists to return you to your highest functional level quickly and safely. Click here to contact us for your next appointment!


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