A shoulder injury can negatively impact your quality of life by affecting your well-being, ability to perform daily activities, and ability to participate in sports or physical activities. Two common shoulder injuries that can occur are AC (acromioclavicular) joint separations and SLAP (superior labrum anterior to posterior) lesions.
Keep reading to learn more about these injuries, their causes, symptoms, and available treatment options. Understanding what AC separations and SLAP lesions are and why they happen can help you recognize the signs early, seek appropriate medical attention, and embark on a comprehensive rehabilitation journey for a successful recovery.
AC Separation: Causes and Symptoms
AC separation is an injury to the ligaments of the shoulder that attach the collarbone to the shoulder blade. It is commonly caused by a direct blow or fall onto the shoulder, often seen in sports like football, rugby, and cycling.
The severity of AC separations is categorized into different grades, ranging from mild ligament sprains to complete dislocations of the joint:
- Grade I: When the AC ligaments are lightly sprained, the collarbone does not move, and X-rays look normal.
- Grade II: A more serious injury can lead to the tearing of the AC ligaments and the spraining or partial tearing of the coracoclavicular (CC) ligament, causing the collarbone to be misaligned to some degree and resulting in a noticeable bump.
- Grade III: As a consequence of the most severe shoulder separations, the tearing of both the AC and CC ligaments causes a noticeable displacement of the AC joint and leads to a prominent bump on the shoulder.
Symptoms of AC separation may include pain, swelling, tenderness, limited range of motion, and a visible bump or deformity above the shoulder. In severe cases, there may be a loss of strength and stability in the shoulder joint. Prompt medical evaluation by a specialist, including physical examination and imaging tests, is crucial to determining the grade of separation and the appropriate treatment approach.
Treatment Options for AC Separation
Treatment for AC separation depends on the severity of the injury.
Mild cases, such as grade I and II separations, can often be managed conservatively with rest, ice, and compression, along with pain medication and physiotherapy exercises. Physical therapy helps restore range of motion, strengthen the shoulder muscles, and improve stability.
For more severe AC separations, surgical intervention may be necessary. Surgical options include ligament reconstruction, ligament repair, or stabilization procedures. Rehabilitation following surgery typically involves a combination of immobilization and a carefully tailored physical therapy program to gradually restore function and strength.
SLAP Lesions: Causes and Symptoms
SLAP lesions involve damage to the labrum, which is the cartilage that connects the arm to the shoulder. These injuries are often caused by repetitive overhead motions, such as throwing or lifting heavy weights, or sudden trauma, like a fall onto an outstretched arm. SLAP lesions can lead to pain, instability, and a reduced ability to perform activities that require shoulder strength and mobility.
Symptoms of a SLAP lesion may include deep shoulder pain, a catching or popping sensation during movement, weakness, and a decreased range of motion. Diagnosing a SLAP lesion involves a thorough physical examination, imaging tests (such as an MRI or arthroscopy), and sometimes diagnostic injections to pinpoint the exact location and severity of the injury. To rule out skeletal problems, such as fractures, or denser-tissue problems, such as arthritis, X-rays may be taken.
Treatment Options for SLAP Lesions
The treatment of SLAP lesions depends on various factors, including the patient’s age, activity level, the severity of the injury, and the specific location of the tear within the labrum.
Non-surgical treatments for SLAP lesions may include rest, activity modification, physical therapy, and pain management through medication or corticosteroid injections. Furthermore, using an ice pack or heat pack on the shoulder can help alleviate pain and swelling. For best results, apply one or both of the treatments in several cycles of 15 minutes on and 15 minutes off.
An arm sling may be used to immobilize a painful shoulder. In addition to providing excellent support for the injured shoulder, this simple first-aid measure may prevent accidental arm movements from causing further injury. Impact injuries can be treated effectively with slings.
In cases where conservative measures fail to alleviate symptoms, surgical intervention may be recommended. Arthroscopy is the most common technique employed for SLAP repairs. The surgeon uses a small camera and specialized instruments to repair or reattach the torn labrum to promote healing and stability. Post-surgical rehabilitation typically involves a gradual progression of exercises and activities to restore shoulder strength, stability, and function.
AC separations and SLAP lesions are common shoulder injuries that can cause significant discomfort and impair daily activities. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for these injuries is essential. Whether through conservative measures or surgical intervention, a multidisciplinary approach involving orthopedic specialists, physical therapists, and rehabilitation experts can help you recover and regain shoulder function. If you suspect an AC separation or a SLAP lesion, seek prompt medical attention to initiate appropriate treatment and rehabilitation for a successful recovery.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of AC separation or SLAP lesions, don’t hesitate to contact the Mobility Bone & Joint Institute. Our team of experts can walk you through available options and provide a personalized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs and helps you achieve your goals. So, take the first step towards recovery and contact us today!