With just a couple of days until Vail Mountain opens, we will talk about another fairly common injury we see on the hill, the separated shoulder.
A separated shoulder is generally a traumatic injury and occurs from landing directly on the shoulder or on an outstretched arm. It can happen in all kinds of snow riding, but is more common in boarders because of the nature of their falls. A separation of the shoulder is an injury of the acromioclavicular joint (AC Joint) which is where your collarbone attaches to your shoulder blade at the top of your shoulder. When enough force is placed on this joint it can pull apart and tear the ligaments that hold the AC Joint together.
An AC separation is different from a dislocated shoulder. A dislocated shoulder occurs when the head of the humerus comes out of the socket, and is also generally a traumatic injury.
In either case, if you suffer a blow to your shoulder and outstretched arm, with significant pain and/or deformity you should get this checked out immediately. With this type of injury not only are separation and dislocation possible, so are fractures, rotator cuff tears, labral tears, and nerve injury. It is imperative to find out what you are dealing with before trying to treat it.
With separations, the common symptoms are pain at the top of the shoulder, although acutely the pain may be more diffuse. The AC Joint can be very painful to the touch and can present with a Step Deformity. This occurs as the joint is no longer sitting flush together.
There is generally a clear step off from the end of the collarbone where it meets the acromion on the scapula. Most people will be initially very painful with shoulder movement, especially trying to pull the arm across the body.
Early treatment involves stabilizing the joint and allowing the ligaments to heal. Sometimes using a sling is needed, other times taping the AC Joint can give it enough stability to be comfortable. Once pain is controlled and healing is occurring mobility and strength need to be returned to the shoulder as it is tolerated. Most people resume full shoulder activity in 4-8 weeks after this type of injury.
If you have questions about a shoulder injury drop us a line.