Shoulder separation is a common orthopedic injury affecting many people in the US. The separation occurs due to extreme pressure or strain placed on the acromioclavicular joint (AC joint), causing the ligaments that connect the collarbone (clavicle) to the shoulder blade (scapula) to tear partially or completely.
Immobilization is a critical part of separated shoulder treatment, but people often overlook it.
Here is a brief understanding of separated shouldersand the role of immobilization in separated shoulder treatment.
Understanding Shoulder Separation
A separated shoulder, medically known as acromioclavicular joint separation or AC joint separation, is a frequent injury often associated with sports, falls, or car accidents. This injury occurs when the ligaments connecting the collarbone and shoulder blade are torn, causing these two bones to separate or move apart from each other.
It’s worth mentioning that, unlike a dislocated shoulder, a separated shoulder doesn’t involve damage to the main ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder.
Most shoulder separations occur when an individual falls directly onto the shoulder with enough force to tear the ligaments. Besides falls, the shoulder can also separate as a result ofcar accidents and sports injuries. Repetitive motions with the shoulder, aging, overuse or straining of the shoulders, particularly in older people, manual labor, participation in sports involving collisions with others or the ground, and accidents and falls all increase the risk of a separated shoulder.
The primary symptoms of a separated shoulder include:
- Severe pain at the top of the shoulder
- Difficulty moving the arm through a normal range of motion.
- A noticeable bump on the top of the shoulder, which makes it appear deformed. This bump occurs as a result of torn ligaments, which allow the shoulder blade to move downward from the weight of the arm, causing the top end of the collarbone to protrude up.
The Importance of Immobilization
When a shoulder separation occurs, the primary goal is to control inflammation and pain while allowing the body to heal the damaged ligaments naturally. This is where immobilization comes into play.
Several methods are used to immobilize the shoulder following shoulder separation, including a sling or a brace. The choice depends on various factors, including the severity of the injury, the individual’s age, and the expected length of rehabilitation.
Immobilizing the shoulder with a sling is the most common method used to prevent movement and provide support. A brace is another option for immobilizing the shoulder and may be necessary for more complicated injuries that require more stability or for people who do not tolerate a sling.
It’s important to note that immobilization is not designed to be a permanent solution and is primarily used as a preventative measure as the shoulder heals.
Role of Immobilization in Separated Shoulder Treatment
Immobilization can help the separated shoulders in the following ways:
Provides Rest and Healing
Immobilization is critical in helping the separated shoulder heal properly. By providing rest and reducing movement, immobilization providesthe injured shoulder the necessary time to heal and form new tissue. It lessens the possibility of further injury and helps to manage the pain caused by the separation.
By keeping the shoulder joint immobilized, the soft tissues surrounding the shoulder are allowed to recover in a protected manner, reducing the likelihood of further damage.
Helps to Prevent Further Shoulder Dislocation
Moving your shoulder when it should be immobilized increases the risk of shoulder dislocation. Keeping the shoulder immobilized with a sling can assist in reducing the risk of further injury.
Encourages Proper Alignment
The use of a sling or other form of immobilization plays a vital role in keeping the injured shoulder in its proper place. This encourages proper alignment of the shoulder joint, allowing it to heal in a position that favors the restoration of normal shoulder function.
Promotes Better Patient Comfort
Immobilization can reduce the pain felt by the patient, which leads to greater patient comfort. Often, the proper position of immobilization can help to alleviate pain in the joint resulting from separation.
Speeds Up Recovery
The use of immobilization post-injury can promote a faster recovery time. It supports a good environment that will promote healing. Proper immobilization will enhance patient confidence that they have the support they need for their tissue to heal, promoting a faster and more effective recovery.
What Should Be the Duration of Immobilization?
Immobilization is typically achieved using a special sling or shoulder immobilizer. The duration of immobilization varies depending on the severity of the injury, but it’s usually between one to three weeks. During this period, the shoulder surgeon advisesthe patient to rest and avoid any activities that may strain the shoulder.
After the initial immobilization phase, the patient generally starts a rehabilitation program under the guidance of a physical therapist. This PT program is specifically designed to restore flexibility, strength, and functionality to the shoulder.
What Are Other Separated Shoulder Treatments?
The treatment approach for a separated shoulder depends on the severity of the injury. For most people, recovery can occur within two to 12 weeks without surgery through non-surgical treatments, including:
- Ice packs and pain medications for pain relief
- Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles and ligaments of the shoulder after healing.
- Avoidance of lifting heavy objects for eight to 12 weeks after healing of injury
In more severe cases or when nonsurgical treatments are not the best option, surgery may be required. Surgical treatments can include shaving the end of the collarbone to prevent it from rubbing against the shoulder blade and reattaching torn ligaments to the underside of the collarbone.
Separated Shoulder Treatment Near Me in Dover, NJ
At the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, we have a team of board-certified and compassionate orthopedic surgeons who offer a wide variety of treatments for separated shoulders, including immobilization. In addition to providing nonsurgical treatments like immobilization, medications, and physical therapy, we also perform surgical treatments with exceptional outcomes.
To know more about us or schedule a consultation with our providers, call us today at (210) 692-7400 or fill out our online appointment request form. We look forward to serving you!