The sternoclavicular (SC) joint is an important joint within the shoulder, located between the sternum (breastbone) and the clavicle (collarbone). An SC joint injury is relatively uncommon, accounting for an estimated 5 percent of all shoulder injuries, because of the very strong supporting ligaments and joint capsule. Injuries to the SC joint are commonly caused by a direct blow or other blunt force trauma to the collarbone area. Dr. Matthew Provencher, orthopedic shoulder surgeon, specializes in treating sternoclavicular joint pain associated with an SC joint injury in patients living in the greater Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado communities.
Even though the sternoclavicular joint is strong, it can dislocate and become unstable from a direct blow, other blunt force trauma or from a hard landing on the shoulder area, commonly seen in football and other contact sports. When a patient sustains an SC joint injury, the ligaments become stretched or torn, causing the joint to lose stability. Injuries to the SC joint range from a mild strain (partial stretch or tear) to a complete dislocation (complete stretch or tear).
SC joint injuries are graded into three categories like many other shoulder injuries.
- Grade 1- A simple strain that involves a partial tear or stretch of the sternoclavicular and costoclavicular ligaments.
- Grade 2- A portion of the clavicle becomes subluxated, either posteriorly or anteriorly.
- Grade 3- A complete rupture of the sternoclavicular and costoclavicular ligaments.
SC Joint Injury Symptoms
The hallmark sign of this shoulder injury is sternoclavicular joint pain at or around the joint. Patients may also experience other troublesome symptoms, such as bruising, instability of the clavicle during activities, and cracking and popping sensations. Certain patients may also have difficulty swallowing or breathing, a choking sensation or a sense of fullness if the clavicle becomes posteriorly displaced.
SC Joint Injury Diagnosis
Dr. Provencher will conduct a thorough physical examination of the injured shoulder to determine the cause of sternoclavicular joint pain. During the examination, he will evaluate the joint’s overall range of motion. A series of x-rays and an MRI scan are usually performed so he can examine the bony structures, ligaments, and other soft tissue structures in great detail.
SC Joint Injury Treatment
Many cases of an SC joint injury can be treated with a non-surgical treatment plan. Sternoclavicular joint pain can be alleviated in many patients with a combination of rest, ice, immobilization in a sling or similar device, and anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).
Severe injuries to the SC joint may require shoulder surgery and manipulation by Dr. Provencher to relocate the joint back to its original position. Dr. Provencher’s goal with surgery is to place the SC joint back into the proper position and repair the damaged ligaments. Dr. Provencher may also recommend a surgical treatment approach to patients experiencing degeneration of the SC joint from arthritis or similar degenerative shoulder condition.
For more resources on an SC joint injury, or for additional information on causes of sternoclavicular joint pain, please contact Dr. Matthew Provencher, orthopedic shoulder surgeon in the greater Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado area.