The acromio-clavicular joint is the joint on either side of your body between the collarbone and
the shoulder. Dysfunction of the joint can either be due to a traumatic incident, such as a car
accident, a fall or a sporting injury, or can be non-traumatic due to changes over time. A
repetitive onset of symptoms is the most probable non-traumatic cause. AC joint dysfunction is
very common in weightlifters due to the repetitive overhead movement with weights. The AC
joint as well as associated structures around it, such as ligaments and muscles, can be affected
and become painful. Postural deviations can also predispose to AC joint dysfunction, as the
upper back influences shoulder movement.
● Pain over the AC joint with shoulder movements, especially overhead activities
● Swelling or thickening over the AC joint
● Limitations in shoulder movement
● Referred pain in the upper arm
A diagnosis will be made by your physiotherapist by looking at the onset of your symptoms, the
referred pain pattern (pain experienced outside the affected area), swelling or thickening of the
AC joint, and by performing passive movements of your shoulder. It is often required to rule out
other shoulder pathologies to confirm a diagnosis of AC joint dysfunction by doing a variety of
special orthopedic tests.
AC joint dysfunction can effectively be treated with physiotherapy, and treatment modalities
might include joint mobilisations, strengthening exercises, posture corrections, dry needling,
kinesiotaping, mobility exercises, etc. You might also need to learn how to perform some
sporting activities with adaptations in the future. Your physiotherapist will plan a treatment
strategy with you to address your specific needs and can help you return to any sporting
activities appropriately. It is important to prevent the condition from recurring and you will be
educated on how to do this in the long term. Your recovery time will depend on many factors
such as the severity of the injury and compliance with treatment, and will therefore be different
for every person.
If the cause of your AC joint pain is traumatic, you may need to be referred for a scan and
medical treatment in combination with physiotherapy. Medical treatment can include injections,
medications or surgery in severe cases. Your physiotherapist will be involved as well to ensure
that the best outcome is reached.