A shoulder separation can result from a fall or severe trauma at the shoulder joint.  The injury affects the acromioclavicular joint, or AC joint, where the collarbone (clavicle) and the highest point of the shoulder blade (acromion) meet.

If a deformity appears, the injury is easier to identify. However, if there is not a deformity, a diagnosis is based on the location of the pain, an X-ray and, in some cases, an MRI.


  • Shoulder pain

  • Arm and shoulder weakness

  • Shoulder bruising/swelling

  • Limited shoulder movement

  • A bump or swelling at the top of your shoulder


The physician will prescribe a pain relieving medications, and cold packs that can help to alleviate the pain of a shoulder separation. As a way to help keep the AC joint less mobile, a sling or a more complicated supporter or brace may be used. Even if there is a major deformity due to the injury, most people go back to  full or nearly function of their shoulder. In some cases, people will continue to have pain located in the AC joint even if the deformity is mild. The pain can be due to:

  • Contact between both ends of the joint when it is in motion

  • Arthritis

  • A piece of cushioning cartilage is injured between the bone and where the ends of the joint meet.


Surgery is only considered if there is persistent pain and a severe deformity.