Shoulder separation is not an injury to the main shoulder joint itself. It is an injury to the top of the shoulder where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the top of the shoulder blade (acromion of the scapula).
It is not the same as a shoulder dislocation. A dislocated shoulder occurs when the arm bone comes out of the main shoulder joint.
Separated shoulder - aftercare; Acromioclavicular joint separation - aftercare; A/C separation - aftercare
Most shoulder separation injuries are caused by falling onto the shoulder. This results in a tear in the tissue that connects the collarbone and top of the shoulder blade. These tears can also come from car accidents and sports injuries.
This injury can make the shoulder look abnormal from the end of a bone sticking up or the shoulder hanging lower than normal.
Pain is usually at the very top of the shoulder.
Your health care provider may have you hold onto a weight while examining you to see if your collarbone sticks out. An x-ray of your shoulder may help diagnose a shoulder separation.
Most people recover from a shoulder separation without surgery, within 2 to 12 weeks. You will be treated with ice, medicines, a sling, and then exercises as you continue to heal.
Your recovery may be slower if you have:
You may need surgery right away if you have:
Make an ice pack by putting ice in a sealable plastic bag and wrapping a cloth around it. DO NOT put the bag of ice directly on the area, as the ice could damage your skin.
On the first day of your injury, apply the ice every 10 to 15 minutes, for 20 minutes each time. After the first day, ice the area every 3 to 4 hours for 20 minutes each time. Do this for 2 days or longer, or as instructed by your provider.
For pain, you can take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), aspirin, or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines without a prescription.
You may be given a shoulder sling to use for a few weeks.
If you continue to have pain, your provider will probably ask you to come back in 1 week to decide if you need to:
Call your doctor or go to the emergency room right away if you have:
Andermahr J, Ring D, Jupiter JB. Fractures and dislocations of the clavicle. In: Browner BD, Jupiter JB, Krettek C, Anderson PA, eds. Skeletal Trauma: Basic Science, Management, and Reconstruction. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 49.
Bengtzen RR, Daya MR. Shoulder. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 46.