AC Joint Injuries in Contact Sport

Acromioclavicular (AC) joint injuries can occur as a result of participation in contact sports. Located at the top of the shoulder, the AC joint connects the collarbone (clavicle) to the shoulder blade (scapula). When this joint is injured, it can lead to significant pain and difficulty in performing athletic activities. Understanding the nature of AC joint injuries and recognising their signs and symptoms is crucial for effective recovery and return to sport.

What Causes AC Joint Injuries?

AC joint injuries are prevalent in contact sports such as rugby league, union, AFL and hockey. These injuries typically occur due to:

  • Landing on shoulder: A fall onto the shoulder as a result of a tackle or collision can force the AC joint apart, leading to damage. This is a common scenario in league and union when players hit the ground hard.
  • Direct Blow: A direct hit to the shoulder, such as during a body check in hockey or a high-impact tackle in football, can also injure the AC joint.
    In these high-contact scenarios, the forceful impact can stretch or tear the ligaments that stabilize the AC joint, resulting in pain, swelling, and in some cases a noticeable bump at the top of the shoulder. Severe cases may involve complete dislocation of the joint, leading to significant functional impairment.

Signs and Symptoms of AC Joint Injuries

  • Shoulder Pain: Pain at the top of the shoulder, especially when lifting the arm or performing overhead activities.
  • Swelling and Bruising: Visible swelling and bruising around the AC joint.
  • Step Deformity: A noticeable bump or protrusion at the top of the shoulder, indicating dislocation or separation.
  • Restricted Movement: Difficulty in moving the shoulder or lifting the arm due to pain and instability.
  • Weakness: Decreased strength in the shoulder, making it hard to perform usual activities.

How physiotherapy can help

AC joint injuries can be quite painful and restrictive, potentially preventing participation in sports. If left untreated, postural changes and abnormal movement habits can occur, increasing the likelihood of secondary problems. Physiotherapy can help ensure an appropriate rehab is undertaken to get you back on the field as soon as possible. Physios will help with initial symptom management immediately following the injury, and prescribe you with an exercise program to allow you to regain strength and function, with the aim of getting you back to sport as soon as possible!

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