Sports chiropractors are trained to help people with a large range of sports injuries including AC joint sprains. When you visit a sports chiropractor following an injury they will
- Take a thorough history
- Perform a full physical exam
- Recommend the best treatment and management approach.
One of our sports chiropractors Chris Knee will talk about AC joint sprains.
What is an AC joint sprain?
The Acromioclavicular (AC) joint is the connection between the clavicle (collar bone) and the shoulder blade (acromion). A sprain simply means that ligaments have be injured.
Putting this information together an AC joint sprain is an injury to the ligamentous parts of the AC joint. This includes the acromioclavicular ligament, corocaclavicular ligament and AC joint capsule – this is the fibrous layer around the joint.
There are three grades of any sprain. Grade I, II and III. The higher the grade the more damage to the ligaments has occurred.
How do they occur?
AC joint sprains typically occur from direct pressure applied to the shoulder such as in a fall onto the side. This is common in bike accidents, rugby and skilling.AC joint sprains can also occur from a fall on an outstretch hand (FOOSH injury).
In sports, almost 50% of shoulder injuries are AC joint sprains, making them very common. It is much more common to damage the ligaments around the AC joint rather than rupturing them completely.
Who is affected?
Men are much more likely to have an AC joint injury than females to a ratio of 5:1.
Do they heal?
Most people should expect a full recovery from AC joint sprains. The lower the grade the quicker AC joint sprains take to recover. For example, a grade II sprain should expect full recovery around 4-6 weeks. This depends on how much damage has occurred of course.
Some people do report ongoing symptoms even with low grade sprains. There is research that shows degenerative changes are still associated with low grade AC joint sprains, so proper management and rehabilitation is important following all AC joint sprains.
How do sports chiropractors treat them?
Current best practice guidelines advise treatment to be divided into three phases for most AC joint injuries:
Phase 1 Acute management (0-2weeks):
- Patient education
- Immobilisation of the shoulder joint with a sling if relevant
- Ice application in first 24-72hours as required
- Gentle exercises: concentrating on range of motion and isometric muscle strengthening.
Phase 2 Recovery/rehabilitation (2-6 weeks):
- Restore full non-painful shoulder range
- Muscle strengthening as tolerated
Phase 3 Functional integration/return to sport (6 weeks +)
- Sport specific drills
- Padding/taping as required when returning to sport