Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis

The acromioclavicular joint, or AC joint, is the anatomical part of the shoulder where the collarbone joins the shoulder. It is a common spot for osteoarthritis, due to overload or degeneration of the cartilage that cushions the joint. This can occur because of a previous sudden (acute) injury, from ongoing wear and tear, or an overuse injury.

Often occurring in middle age, osteoarthritis in the acromioclavicular joint can be painful and cause difficulty performing everyday activities, especially overhead movements. It can also be painful to lie on that shoulder, causing sleep difficulties. Osteolysis can also occur, where the end of the collarbone disintegrates as the bone starts to die.

For more information on AC joint arthritis and possible treatment options, call +44 (0) 203 195 2442 to arrange a consultation with the London Shoulder Specialists.

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What causes acromioclavicular joint arthritis?

The AC joint is under constant stress as the arm is used overhead. Certain sports cause injuries to the labrum when the biceps tendon pulls sharply against it. Golfers can be susceptible to injuring this part of the arm in their golf swing when the club hits the ground. Also, weightlifters who repeatedly hold heavy weights overhead have an increased risk of getting arthritis at an early age.

An AC joint separation injury can also cause AC joint osteoarthritis to develop. This normally happens from falling on the shoulder. The shoulder injury does not heal and years later results in degeneration of the AC joint.

For a confirmed diagnosis, a London Shoulder Specialists consultant will carry out a thorough physical examination. A way to determine this injury is by compressing the joint, as the pain is often worse when the arm is brought across the chest. They will also check your medical history including questions about any past injuries.

An X-ray can be performed to assess the extent of degeneration damage. They may also carry out further investigative tests including blood tests, and MRI or CT scans. After this, your consultant can advise you on the most appropriate treatment plan, including surgical and non-surgical options, that will give you the best possible outcome.

Treating acromioclavicular joint arthritis

Treatment will depend on several individual factors, including age and any sporting involvement. The first goal will be to control pain and inflammation. This usually involves rest and anti-inflammatory medication. Cortisone injections into the joint can offer additional temporary pain relief.

If non-surgical treatment is not successful, then surgery may be suggested. The most common procedure for AC joint osteoarthritis is resection arthroplasty. This is where a very small portion of the end of the clavicle is removed, then as your body heals, the joint is replaced by scar tissue.

After surgery, you will need to attend physical therapy sessions and should expect a full recovery and return to activity after four to six months.

If you have further questions about possible treatment options for AC joint osteoarthritis, please arrange a consultation with the London Shoulder Specialists.

Frequently Asked Questions on AC Joint Arthritis

Symptoms of AC joint arthritis usually continue to worsen over time, particularly with repeated motions such as crossing of the arms or lifting objects overhead. You’ll experience pain near the top of your shoulder and this can extend into the neck and the arm.

Prolonged side sleeping can be one of the causes of cartilage breakdown in the AC joint of the shoulder. Side sleepers should lie on their other side or place a thick pillow under the affected side to keep it elevated. If sleeping on your back, placing a pillow under each arm can help.

Non-surgical treatments, such as rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and cortisone injections, can often successfully control the pain associated with AC joint arthritis. However, when they fail to relieve persistent and moderate-to-severe pain, then shoulder surgery may be deemed necessary. Most patients get excellent pain relief with surgery and can return to normal activities.