AC Joint Repair

AC Joint Repair Overview

The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is located at the connection point of the clavicle (collarbone) and the acromion (roof of the shoulder). The AC joint is quite strong since it is stabilized by strong ligaments, known as coracoclavicular (CC) ligaments, which attach the clavicle to the front of the scapula (shoulder blade). Even though it is strong, the AC joint and the surrounding soft tissue structures can become injured from direct impact to the top of the shoulder joint during injury such as a fall or motor vehicle accident. The traumatic event can cause the clavicle and scapula to displace from each other, referred to as an AC separation. More severe cases of an AC separation may require an arthroscopic AC joint repair. This minimally invasive procedure is commonly performed by Dr. Jervis Yau, orthopedic shoulder surgeon serving the Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Ventura, California communities.

Injuries to the AC joint are measured based on grades, with increasing numbers reflecting more severe injury. A grade 1 or 2 AC joint injury will cause pain and is commonly caused by mild sprain or stretch of the ligaments without significant displacement. Grades 4-6 AC joint injuries represent significant displacement due torn ligaments and capsule requiring surgical repair to return full function to the joint.  Grade 3 AC joint injuries are more controversial. Dr. Yau will determine Grade 3 injuries on a case-by-case basis to determine the optimal treatment option.

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The overall goal of acute shoulder arthroscopy AC joint repair is to secure the clavicle back to its normal anatomic position and thus, allowing the ligaments to heal appropriately. In the sub-acute or chronic setting, the repair is often accompanied by reconstruction of the CC ligaments using allograft (cadaver donor) tendon due to the inability of the chronically torn ligaments to heal appropriately.

X-ray of an AC Joint Repair (Click to Enlarge)

Recovery and Rehabilitation Following Arthroscopic AC Joint Repair

Following surgical treatment, all patients will be required to wear a sling for 4-6 weeks to protect the repaired joint and allow the ligaments to heal. Dr. Yau will prescribe physical therapy to gradually increase shoulder range of motion and strength. The program typically begins several weeks after arthroscopic AC joint repair. The majority of patients can expect a full recovery and return to athletic activities in 3-4 months.

For additional information on arthroscopic AC joint repair as a shoulder separation treatment, please contact the Santa Barbara, Goleta, Santa Maria and Ventura, California orthopedic office of shoulder surgeon Dr. Jervis Yau.

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