The shoulder is an incredible joint. It performs such a wide variety of movements, and is made up of numerous intricate muscles, ligaments, and bones to allow for such a wide range of motion.
Unfortunately, this also means that the shoulder can be prone to injury, particularly if you play contact sports, or participate in other extreme sports activities. One of the most common injuries is a separated shoulder, which makes up about half of all sports-related shoulder injuries.
In this article, we’ll discuss separated shoulder rehab therapy, and whether or not you may need surgery for a separated shoulder.
Table of Contents
Understanding How Separated Shoulder Injuries Happen
A “separated shoulder” refers to an injury of your AC joint, which is the joint between the end of your collarbone, and the upper section of your shoulder blade. This is one of the most major structural components of your shoulder.
This joint is supported by three different ligaments, which allow the arm to raise overhead, and keep the shoulder joint aligned with the collarbone. The technical term for a separated shoulder is “AC joint sprain”.
Usually, these injuries happen because of direct trauma to the shoulder. For example, if a cyclist falls and lands on their shoulder, the AC joint may be damaged. The same is true of a hockey player or football player who is tackled or checked, or even a gymnast who breaks their fall with their arm.
The impact can stretch or tear the ligaments in the AC joint, leading to pain, lack of range of motion, and other serious symptoms, depending on the grade of the tear.
Identifying A Shoulder Separation – Two Methods
If you think that you may have a separated shoulder, there are two methods you can use to determine if an AC joint injury is present.
The first is to simply bring your arm up to 90 degrees, reach across your body, and touch your opposite shoulder. If you feel significant pain and strain, you likely have a separated shoulder.
The other is the “piano key” test. The name of the test comes from the fact that, if you touch your collarbone, you can actually move it. It will move downward, and “pop” back up like a piano key, due to ligament damage and sprain. This is a sure sign of shoulder separation.
Injury Grading – How Severe Is The Shoulder Separation?
Not all separated shoulders are the same. There are six distinct levels of shoulder separation injury:
- Grade 1 – The ligaments have been pulled and strained, but there is no tearing. Grade 1 separations usually heal without surgery after about 1-2 weeks, with proper rest and therapy.
- Grade 2 – The AC ligament is torn, leading to a partial separation. Grade 2 separations take 3-4 week to heal, but range of motion will be restricted, and shoulder rehab is recommended for proper recovery.
- Grade 3 – The AC ligament along with other supporting ligaments are torn, leading to full shoulder separation. Grade 3 separations severely restrict range of motion, and require rehab and physical therapy for 8+ weeks, though they do not typically require surgery.
- Grades 4-6 – These are also complete separations, but the number depends on the location where the collarbone is located after the injury, and how misplaced it is under the skin. These types of shoulder separations almost always require surgery, and will require a lengthy recovery period and physical therapy to restore strength and motion to the join.
Usually, only grades 4-6 sprains need surgery, so most folks with shoulder separation simply need separated shoulder rehab and physical therapy to make a full recovery.
Get Help With A Separated Shoulder Right Away
With the exception of grade 1 sprains, all other separated shoulder injuries require physical therapy to restore their range of motion, and ensure proper recovery. So don’t wait. Get help with separated shoulder rehab right away, and get back to the sports and activities that you love – pain-free.