What is an AC Joint Repair?
The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is the location where the clavicle (collarbone) attaches to the roof of the shoulder blade (acromion). Patients can easily identify the AC joint by feeling for the bump on the top of the shoulder joint. Multiple ligaments including the coracoclavicular (CC) ligaments and coracoacromial (CA) ligament help provide support to the AC joint by attaching the clavicle to the front of the scapula (shoulder blade). These ligaments and, ultimately, the AC joint can sustain damage from a fall, automobile accident or collision during a sporting activity. The traumatic event may result in an AC separation, an injury where the roof of the shoulder and the collarbone no longer sit next to each other. More severe cases of an AC separation may require an arthroscopic AC joint repair. This minimally invasive procedure is commonly performed by Dr. Matthew Provencher, orthopedic shoulder surgeon serving the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado communities.
Many mild AC joint injuries are generally treated with conservative measures, such as rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs). Patients with a severe AC joint injury, such as a Grade 3 or higher, may require surgical intervention for reapproximation of the joint and elimination of any risk of chronic shoulder instability. More specifically, an arthroscopic AC joint repair is an effective way to repair the collarbone and return it back to its original position.
How to Perform an AC Joint Repair
The overall goal of an arthroscopic AC joint repair is to secure the collarbone back to its normal position. This is accomplished by securement through durable sutures that run through the collarbone and the front of the shoulder blade. If the CC ligaments also sustained damage during the separation, Dr. Provencher will reconstruct the ligaments by looping a donated graft from the front of the shoulder blade to the top of the collarbone.
What is the Recovery Following Arthroscopic AC Joint Repair?
Dr. Provencher will prescribe a detailed and individualized physical therapy program to all patients following an arthroscopic AC joint repair. The physical therapy program usually begins with gentle shoulder motion exercises and immobilization in a sling to help protect and stabilize the repaired joint as it heals. After the CC ligaments have healed and gained strength, patients will be guided through shoulder strengthening exercises until the sling is no longer needed. Most patients can expect a full return to normal activities 3-4 months after arthroscopic AC joint repair.
For additional resources on arthroscopic AC joint repair, or to learn more about AC joint injuries, please contact the Vail, Aspen and Denver, Colorado orthopedic office of shoulder surgeon Dr. Matthew Provencher.