Separated Shoulder – Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

Separated Shoulder


A separated shoulder is also known as AC joint separation. The AC joint connects the collarbone and the shoulder blade, which get held together by the AC (acromioclavicular) and the CC (coracoclavicular) ligaments.

Any injury to the AC and CC ligaments leads to shoulder separation. This blog contains everything you should know about a separated shoulder – types, symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

About – What is a Separated Shoulder?

A separated shoulder happens due to an injury to the ligaments connecting the shoulder blade and collar bone. This injury may cause the ligaments to stretch beyond the normal or tear the ligaments in severe cases.

The severe cases may cause a permanent deformity in the shoulder, but it doesn’t damage the main ball-and-socket joint. It mostly does not need any surgery and gets well with rest and supportive care .

Types of shoulder separation

There are three types of shoulder separation.

  1. Type I: It is a mild shoulder separation that involves a sprain in the acromioclavicular ligament. It doesn’t cause a fracture and looks normal on X-rays.
  2. Type II: It dislocates the collarbone, and you may see a bump on your shoulder.
  3. Type III: It is the most severe case of a separated shoulder. It tears both the AC and CC ligaments, resulting in shoulder deformities. Type III shoulder separation also puts the AC joint out of position and forms a big bump.

There are three other types of shoulder separation – type IV, V, and VI. These are more severe forms of type III and may cause numb fingers, weak muscles, shoulder deformities, in addition to other symptoms.

What Causes Separated Shoulder?

The ultimate cause of shoulder separation is a forceful hit or direct fall onto your shoulder. Usual causes include sports injuries and car accidents.

What are the Symptoms of a Separated Shoulder?

Various symptoms of a separated shoulder include –

  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Swelling or bruising on the shoulder
  • Limited shoulder movement
  • A shoulder bump
  • Protrusion in the outer end of the collarbone

When Should You See a Doctor?

Contact the doctor if you experience continuous pain in the shoulder or you observe a bump at the end of your collarbone. If symptoms persist, please,

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment. 

Treatment Options for Separated Shoulder

The treatment options may vary depending on the type of shoulder separation. Types I and II shoulder separation can be treated using conservative ways. Type III may get treated by a sling or physical therapy, or it may require surgery depending on the severity. However, types IV, V, and VI require surgery to stabilize injured bones.

Non-surgical methods for treating shoulder separation include:

  • Medications: Painkillers may ease shoulder pain. Your doctor may prescribe ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen. 
  • Sling: It alleviates pain by taking pressure off your shoulder.
  • Ice packs: Using an ice pack for 15-20 minutes helps in reducing shoulder pain and swelling.
  • Physical therapy: Stretching and strengthening exercises work wonders to restore strength and movement in your shoulder.

Surgical methods for treating shoulder separation include:

  • Shaving the end of the collarbone so that it doesn’t rub against the shoulder blade.
  • Reconnection of torn ligaments to the underside of the collarbone
  • Repositioning of injured bones

Please note that consulting a doctor before taking any medicines or therapies is necessary. 


A separated shoulder may or may not cause a permanent shoulder deformity. Depending on the type of shoulder separation, your doctor may recommend suitable treatment options. Some cases of shoulder separation are mild and can get treated using a sling and physical therapy. However, there are a few cases when surgery might be the only option.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can shoulder separation be prevented?

No. However, it is helpful to be aware of the factors that increase the chances of shoulder injuries. These may include heavy lifting, accidents, sports involving collisions, and excessive manual labor.

Are there any complications associated with a separated shoulder?

Yes, the complications can include:

  • Permanent bump or deformity in the shoulder
  • Arthritis in your shoulder
  • Collarbone fracture
  • Other structures, such as the rotator cuff around your shoulder, may be damaged

How long does a separated shoulder take to recover?

Patients with mild shoulder separation often recover within a week. But, some severe cases may require as long as 12 weeks for recovery.

Which is worse: separated shoulder or dislocated shoulder?

A separated shoulder occurs at the top of the shoulder and doesn’t involve the ball-and-socket joint. A dislocated shoulder is a more severe condition as it affects the shoulder joint as well.

How is a separated shoulder diagnosed?

Physical examination, MRIs, and X-rays can confirm the diagnosis. In many people with type I or type II shoulder separation, the X-rays are normal. However, a visible shoulder bump may indicate the problem.