How to treat a sprained AC joint – Marc Bulger

bulger-shoulder-injuryMarc Bulger has soft shoulders and it shows. In a game against the Indianapolis Colts, Marc took a hit improperly and ended up with a sprained AC joint. Marc is no stranger to shoulder injuries or the treatment of shoulder injuries, so he should heal well. But what about you? What do you know about shoulder injuries, in particular, sprained AC joints?

What is an AC joint? The AC joint is the highest joint on your shoulder. It is at the junction of the scapula and the clavicle.

Why is it called an AC joint? Another word for the scapula is the acromion, so when you put acromion and clavicle together, you get AC.

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What is an AC joint sprain? It’s not really a sprain, but a separation or dislocation. This happens during a traumatic event like being hit by a defender that is twice your size.

How do you diagnose an AC joint sprain? There are 6 grades of AC joint sprains. The scale starts at one and goes to six. At one you have a simple sprain with some trauma to the ligaments, but no damage. At level two things start to get dicey with tearing of the ligaments. Levels 3 through 6 mean you have completely torn the ligaments and your shoulder is now disconnected from your body. This is bad.

Here are some common symptoms of a sprained AC joint:

  • Bump on shoulder.
  • Pain in shoulder.
  • Restricted movement.
  • Pain on contact.

How you treat a sprained AC joint? It depends on the severity of the sprain. Here is a good comparison:

  • Level 1 and Level 2: Rest, pain medication, an arm sling and mild physical therapy. Typically, it takes three to six weeks to be pain free and gain a full range of motion.
  • Level 3: Surgery will be called for 50% of the time. After surgery you’ll need extensive physical therapy. Recovery is 3-6 months.
  • Levels 4, 5, 6: Surgery will always happen and only has a 50% chance of success. Success being defined as gaining range of motion, flexibility and loss of pain. In many cases further clavicle breakage will happen after surgery.


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