AC Joint

Have you been suffering from persistent shoulder pain, making everyday tasks like reaching for a shelf or lifting your arm an agonising challenge? At the Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon Clinic, we understand the profound impact that AC Joint injuries can have on your daily life. Whether you’re an active athlete or simply looking to enjoy a pain-free day at work, AC Joint injuries can disrupt your routines and hinder your quality of life.

Led by the experienced orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Stuart Kirkham, our clinic is dedicated to providing top-quality care for individuals facing AC Joint injuries. With over 25 years of expertise, Dr Kirkham has honed his skills in addressing these specific injuries, offering tailored treatment options to suit your unique needs.

His unique approach includes a range of solutions, initially focused on non-surgical interventions like splinting, pain management, and wound care, aimed at promoting healing and minimising discomfort. In more severe cases, Dr Kirkham provides surgical treatments such as AC Joint repair or reconstruction, ensuring the restoration of function and the prevention of complications.

If you’re concerned about an AC Joint sprain, separation, or any other AC joint injury and the discomfort it brings, reach out to Dr Kirkham and schedule a consultation today. With his specialist knowledge and expertise, you’ll be well on your way to regaining the pain-free mobility you deserve.

Anatomy of the Shoulder Joint

In the intricate anatomy of the shoulder joint, the acromioclavicular (AC) joint plays a vital role. This small yet crucial joint is nestled at the top of the shoulder, where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the acromion, a bony projection of the shoulder blade (scapula). Picture it as a bridge connecting these two skeletal landmarks.

The AC joint is all about stability and mobility. It facilitates smooth movement in the shoulder, allowing you to perform everyday actions, from reaching for a high shelf to throwing a ball. Imagine it as a well-oiled hinge, enabling your shoulder to rotate, lift, and extend. It’s a joint that often goes unnoticed until something goes wrong, leading to AC joint injuries.

Now, let’s zoom out and take a broader look at the shoulder’s anatomy. This complex joint is a dynamic assembly of bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. The humerus (upper arm bone) connects to the scapula via the glenoid cavity, forming the glenohumeral joint, which is the main “ball and socket” joint of the shoulder. Surrounding this are several smaller joints and structures that contribute to the shoulder’s intricate movements.

The AC joint, while small in size, is a critical piece of this puzzle. It aids in distributing forces and maintaining stability, ensuring the smooth functioning of the entire shoulder complex. Injuries to the AC joint can disrupt this delicate balance, causing pain, limited mobility, and a host of challenges in your daily activities.

To ensure you receive the best possible care for your AC joint injury, don’t hesitate to contact Dr Kirkham for a consultation today. His commitment to personalised care and in-depth assessment ensures that you’ll receive a precise diagnosis and a customised plan for your AC joint recovery. Embark on the journey to a more comfortable daily life – reach out to Dr Kirkham now and take the first step toward addressing your AC joint injuries.

Causes and Risk Factors for AC Joint Injuries

AC joint injuries can stem from a variety of causes, often resulting in discomfort and limited shoulder mobility. One common culprit is a fall, where the impact on the shoulder can jar the AC joint, causing sprains, separations, or other injuries. Additionally, direct blows to the shoulder, whether from sports collisions or accidents, can also lead to AC joint trauma. These abrupt forces can disrupt the normal function of the AC joint and surrounding structures, triggering pain and injury.

Moreover, several risk factors can increase the likelihood of AC joint injuries. Active individuals, especially athletes engaged in contact sports like football or rugby, face an elevated risk due to the potential for collisions or falls. A relatively uncommon cause of pain in the AC joint experienced by athletes and weightlifters in particular is distal clavicular osteolysis. This form of injury occurs as a result of overuse of the shoulder joint, and while it is an injury of the clavicle, it can place great stress and pain on the AC joint.

Age can also play a role in the development of AC joint injuries; as we grow older, our joints may become less resilient, making them more susceptible to injury. Furthermore, individuals with a history of previous shoulder injuries may find themselves at increased risk of AC joint issues. Past injuries can weaken the joint’s supportive structures, making it more vulnerable to future problems.

Understanding these causes and risk factors is crucial in mitigating the impact of AC joint injuries. Dr Kirkham, with his wealth of experience in treating and researching upper limb conditions, specialises in diagnosing and treating AC joint injuries. His expertise allows for accurate identification of the condition, even before symptoms worsen, enabling early intervention to prevent further damage.

By addressing the underlying causes and risk factors, Dr Kirkham provides individualised guidance and recommendations to help patients avoid inhibiting symptoms that may significantly impact their daily lives. Whether you’re an athlete, an active individual, or someone simply seeking relief from AC joint pain, Dr Kirkham is dedicated to assisting you in your journey towards recovery and restored shoulder function.

Symptoms and Identification of AC Joint Injuries

AC joint pain or an AC joint sprain can manifest as a sharp, stabbing sensation in the top of the shoulder. Patients often describe it as a deep ache that intensifies with movement, particularly when reaching overhead or across the body. This discomfort can extend down the arm, adding to the overall distress.

The symptoms of AC joint injuries can vary, depending on the severity and nature of the injury. In some cases, immediate symptoms may include swelling, bruising, and tenderness at the AC joint site. There may be a noticeable bump or deformity if the joint has been separated. As the injury progresses, mobility in the shoulder may become restricted, making tasks like lifting, reaching, or even sleeping, increasingly challenging.

However, not all symptoms are immediate; some may develop over time. Patients might experience a gradual increase in pain and discomfort, especially with repetitive movements or activities that stress the AC joint. Overuse or continued strain can exacerbate symptoms, leading to persistent pain, weakness, and decreased range of motion.

If you’ve been grappling with persistent shoulder pain, weakness, limited mobility, or difficulties in your daily routines, it’s highly advisable to seek consultation with a Dr Kirkham. With five clinics located across different parts of the Sydney region, Dr Kirkham has a proven track record of providing highly effective treatment options for AC joint injuries. His extensive medical expertise, commitment to ongoing advice and support, and highly personalised treatment plans are geared toward delivering the best possible outcome and improving your overall quality of life. Don’t let AC joint pain hold you back – take the step towards relief and recovery with Dr Kirkham’s guidance.

Diagnosis and Imaging of AC Joint Injuries

Diagnosing an AC joint injury is a crucial step in the path to recovery. To deliver an accurate diagnosis for each patient, Dr Kirkham uses a combination of physical exams and imaging techniques to identify and assess the extent of the injury.

Physical examinations often involve a comprehensive assessment of the affected shoulder. Dr Kirkham may palpate the AC joint to pinpoint tenderness, swelling, or deformities. Range-of-motion tests can help gauge the extent of mobility loss, while strength assessments reveal any weakness in the affected shoulder.

In addition to physical exams, various imaging methods are employed to provide a more detailed view. X-rays are commonly utilised to capture images of the AC joint and surrounding structures. They can reveal any fractures, dislocations, or bone abnormalities. However, X-rays may not always show soft tissue damage, such as ligament or cartilage injuries.

For a more in-depth evaluation of soft tissue structures, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often recommended. MRI scans use powerful magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of the shoulder joint, showcasing any ligament or cartilage tears, inflammation, or other soft tissue issues. This helps in determining the full extent of the injury and guides treatment decisions.

Ultrasound is another valuable tool that can be used to assess the AC joint, providing real-time images of the joint and surrounding structures. It is particularly useful for evaluating the dynamic movement of the AC joint and identifying issues like impingement or inflammation. Each of these imaging techniques may be used by Dr Kirkham to determine the extent of the injury and to differentiate an AC joint sprain from a more serious injury, such as an AC joint tear.

If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of an AC joint injury or have a family history of such conditions, seeking expert medical advice for a thorough diagnosis is crucial. Dr Kirkham and his experienced team at the Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon Clinic specialise in diagnosing and treating AC joint injuries. Their expertise ensures an accurate diagnosis, setting you on the path to recovery. Don’t hesitate to reach out to our friendly team to schedule a consultation with Dr Kirkham and take the first step towards improved shoulder health today.

Treatment Options for AC Joint Injuries

When it comes to treating AC joint injuries, Dr Kirkham offers a range of options, carefully tailored to your specific needs and the severity of your condition. These treatment options encompass both non-surgical and surgical approaches.

Non-surgical treatments are often the initial course of action for AC joint injuries. They may include rest, which allows the joint to heal naturally, and the use of pain management techniques to alleviate discomfort. Additionally, physical therapy can help in regaining strength and range of motion in the shoulder, promoting recovery without the need for surgical intervention.

In cases where non-surgical treatments are insufficient, or the injury is more severe, surgical options may be recommended. The AC joint can sometimes be subluxated or dislocated, and in such cases, surgical repair becomes necessary. Dr Kirkham utilises a synthetic graft technique to facilitate an earlier return to motion, minimising post-operative immobilisation. This approach is particularly beneficial for individuals seeking a swift recovery and return to their daily activities.

Another condition that may require surgical intervention is arthritis of the AC joint. Dr Kirkham employs a minimally invasive, arthroscopic technique to address this issue. This procedure is performed under general anaesthetic and typically takes about 45 minutes. One of the advantages of this treatment method is that patients can actively move their shoulders without the need for a sling. Moreover, it’s often a day-only procedure, allowing individuals to return home on the same day.

The choice between surgical and non-surgical treatments depends on various factors, including the specific type and severity of the AC joint injury. Dr Kirkham’s expertise enables him to assess your condition accurately and recommend the most appropriate course of action, ensuring that your treatment aligns with your individual needs and goals. If you’re facing an AC joint injury and exploring your treatment options, don’t hesitate to contact Dr Kirkham to discuss the best path forward for your recovery.

Prevention and Aftercare for AC Joint Injuries

Preventing AC joint injuries begins with adopting proactive measures to safeguard your shoulder health. Strengthening the muscles around the shoulder joint is crucial. Incorporating exercises that target the rotator cuff and deltoid muscles can enhance stability and reduce the risk of injury. Regular stretching exercises can also improve flexibility and maintain a healthy range of motion, and ensuring consistent warm-up and cool-down routines are important in reducing the risk of injury.

Additionally, paying attention to proper technique and form during physical activities and sports is paramount. Ensure that you are using the correct body mechanics to avoid putting excessive stress on the AC joint. Gradually increasing the intensity and ensuring adequate recovery time between work outs and training sessions can further protect the joint from overuse injuries.

When it comes to aftercare, the recovery process for AC joint injuries often involves a combination of rest, physical therapy, and lifestyle adjustments. Dr Kirkham will provide a series of individualised instructions and a rehabilitation program unique to your circumstances that will promote healing and prevent reinjury.

Physical therapy often forms a significant part of this process as it can aid in regaining strength and mobility in the shoulder, ensuring a smoother recovery. Lifestyle changes may also be necessary post-injury to prevent further stress on the AC joint. This could involve modifying your daily routines, avoiding activities that exacerbate pain, and ensuring strapping is worn to protect a previously injured AC joint when engaging in contact sports.

Don’t let an AC joint injury hold you back from an active and pain-free life. Dr Kirkham and his experienced team are dedicated to providing comprehensive aftercare for AC joint injuries. With the help of the Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon, you can resume your regular activities without hindrance with an effective aftercare plan.

The Recovery Process for AC Joint Injuries

The recovery process for AC joint injuries is a journey that varies in duration and stages, depending on the severity of the injury and the chosen treatment approach. Typically, more conservative non-surgical treatments have shorter timelines than more substantial surgical treatments.

For conservative treatments, the recovery time for AC joint injuries often spans several weeks to a few months. During the initial stage, which can last a few days to a couple of weeks, patients focus on rest and pain management. This phase aims to reduce inflammation and alleviate discomfort. As the healing progresses, physical therapy is introduced to restore strength and mobility. Patients can expect gradual improvement, with a return to most daily activities within a few months. Full recovery may take a bit longer, especially for individuals engaged in physically demanding work or sports.

On the other hand, surgical treatments may involve a longer recovery period, typically ranging from several months to a year for complete recovery. Post-surgery, patients usually experience an initial immobilisation phase, followed by progressive rehabilitation. The immobilisation period can last a few weeks, allowing the surgical site to heal. After that, physical therapy is initiated to rebuild strength and range of motion.

Regardless of the chosen treatment, the stages of recovery generally follow a pattern, beginning with rest and pain management, then progressing to rehabilitation exercises. Patients should maintain regular communication with Dr Kirkham throughout the process to track progress, address any concerns, and adjust the treatment plan as needed.

Understanding the recovery timeline is crucial for managing expectations and ensuring a successful recovery from AC joint injuries. Dr Kirkham has great experience in guiding patients through this journey, providing the necessary support and expertise to facilitate a smooth recovery, whether through conservative or surgical means. If you’re looking for specialist support in overcoming your AC joint injury, don’t hesitate to reach out to Dr Kirkham for advice on how you can optimise your recovery.

Possible Complications of AC Joint Injuries

While effective treatment is crucial for AC joint injuries, it’s also important to be aware of potential complications that can arise during the recovery process. One of the primary concerns voiced by patients is chronic pain. Some individuals may continue to experience discomfort or pain in the AC joint region even after treatment. This can significantly impact daily life and require further evaluation and management.

Re-injury is another potential complication to be vigilant about. Without proper precautions and rehabilitation, there’s a risk of re-injuring the AC joint, especially for individuals returning to sports or activities that place strain on the shoulder. It’s essential to follow post-treatment guidelines to reduce this risk.

Complications can also emerge after surgical procedures. Although surgical interventions aim to restore function, there’s always a possibility of post-operative issues. These may include infection at the surgical site, scarring, or even complications related to anaesthesia. However, Dr Kirkham takes the utmost care to ensure a strict sterilisation process is followed at all times, and this significantly reduces the risk of infection.

It’s also crucial to have regular follow-up appointments with Dr Kirkham to ensure he can monitor your progress and make any necessary adjustments to reduce the risk of complications promptly.

If you’ve experienced an AC joint injury or are concerned about complications, don’t hesitate to consult with Dr Kirkham. Your shoulder health is always his first priority, and with his decades of experience, you’re in the best possible hands for a seamless recovery with personal advice to guide you every step of the way.

Are You Concerned About AC Joint Injuries?

If you’ve been experiencing persistent shoulder pain, limited mobility, or discomfort, it’s crucial not to ignore these symptoms. They could be indicative of an underlying AC joint injury or condition. Seeking the expert advice of Dr Kirkham, a seasoned orthopaedic surgeon and hand specialist at the Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon Clinic, is your first step towards recovery. With over 25 years of experience, his expertise ensures that you’ll receive the accurate diagnosis and tailored treatment plan you need.

Dr Kirkham takes pride in providing top-quality care for AC joint injuries and a wide range of orthopaedic conditions. Backed by his dedicated team, you’ll be working with an industry expert who is committed to enhancing your well-being and recovery.

Don’t let concerns or symptoms linger – take action today. Contact the Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon Clinic and schedule a consultation with Dr Kirkham to kickstart your journey towards a pain-free and active life.


1. How long does an AC joint injury take to heal?

The recovery time for an AC joint injury can vary depending on its severity and the chosen treatment. In general, conservative treatments may take several weeks to a few months for recovery. Surgical options, while effective, often require a longer recovery period, ranging from several months to a year or more. Dr Kirkham at the Sydney Orthopaedic Surgeon Clinic can assess your specific condition and provide guidance on your expected recovery timeline, ensuring a tailored approach to your healing process.


2. What exercises can I do to help strengthen the AC joint after injury?

Strengthening exercises for the AC joint are focused on targeting the muscles surrounding the shoulder. These exercises can help improve stability and support the joint during recovery. Some effective exercises include rotator cuff strengthening exercises like external and internal rotation exercises with resistance bands, scapular stabilisation exercises, and shoulder blade squeezes. However, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare provider or physical therapist to ensure you’re performing these exercises correctly and at the appropriate stage of your recovery. Dr Kirkham can provide personalised guidance on suitable exercises based on your specific condition.


3. What causes AC joint degeneration?

AC joint degeneration often results from wear and tear over time. Factors contributing to degeneration include aging, repetitive overhead movements, and previous shoulder injuries. Additionally, activities like weightlifting, sports involving overhead motions, or jobs that require frequent overhead reaching can accelerate degeneration. In consultation with Dr Kirkham, the underlying causes of your AC joint degeneration can be addressed, and a treatment plan tailored to your condition can be created.


4. Is AC joint surgery the only solution for severe injuries?

While surgery is a potential treatment for severe AC joint injuries, it’s not always the first or only solution. Non-surgical approaches, such as rest, physical therapy, and pain management, can often effectively address less severe injuries. Surgical intervention is typically considered when conservative treatments fail to provide relief or for certain types of severe injuries. Dr Kirkham evaluates each case individually and recommends the most appropriate treatment based on the injury’s nature and the patient’s needs, ensuring personalised care and optimal outcomes.


5. Can AC joint injuries lead to long-term shoulder problems?

If left untreated or not managed properly, AC joint injuries can potentially lead to long-term shoulder issues. This may include chronic pain, limited mobility, and a decreased quality of life. Seeking prompt and effective treatment from a specialist like Dr Kirkham can help to minimise the risk of long-term complications and ensure a smoother recovery. Dr Kirkham’s expertise in diagnosing and treating AC joint injuries can help patients regain shoulder health and functionality, reducing the likelihood of enduring shoulder problems.


  1. Mayo Clinic Orthopedics & Sports Medicine (AC Joint Injuries)
  2. John Hopkins Medicine (AC Joint Problems)
  3. Sports Medicine Australia (Acromioclavicular Joint Injury)