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Degloving injury. (Photo contributor: Selim Suner, MD, MS.)


Clinical Summary

Injury to the acromioclavicular (AC) joint usually results from an impact on the superior aspect of the acromion. The classification system for AC joint includes six types. A type I injury is equivalent to a stretching of the AC ligament. A type II injury consists of tearing of the AC ligaments and stretching of the coracoclavicular ligaments. Complete disruption of the AC and coracoclavicular ligaments is seen in types III to VI.

Patients complain of pain at the AC joint and will actively splint the injured shoulder. Ecchymosis may be present; however, an obvious deformity is not always seen. There is significant tenderness upon palpation of the AC joint.

Standard radiographs should include anteroposterior (AP) and axillary lateral views of the shoulder. Type I injuries will appear normal. Type II injuries may show 0% to 50% displacement at the AC joint but no increase in the coracoclavicular interval. Types III to VI will demonstrate displacement at the AC joint and the clavicle will appear to be displaced superiorly (the acromion actually is rotated inferiorly) 50% to greater than 100% its width when compared with the normal side.

Management and Disposition

Type I and type II injuries are treated with rest, ice, analgesics, and a simple sling until acute pain with movement is relieved. Treatment of type III injuries may be nonoperative or operative. However, these patients can be discharged from the emergency department in a sling without an emergent orthopedic consult. Types IV, V, and VI are treated operatively. Referral to a musculoskeletal specialist is essential for all AC joint injuries since many patients who initially appear to have minor injuries will have more obvious deformity after the swelling and pain have subsided.


  1. The early AC joint stress radiograph can be negative due to splinting of the shoulder girdle muscles and does not add anything to the acute patient management.

  2. Differentiating between types I and II versus types IV to VI is the goal of the ED physician, since the latter will require an emergency orthopedic consult.


AC Joint Separation. Subtle prominence of the left distal clavicle. The upward clavicle displacement is due to suspending ligament stretching or disruption. (Photo contributor: Frank Birinyi, MD.)


Types of AC Joint Injuries. Classification schemes may subdivide type III injuries into III through VI depending on the position of the clavicle.


AC Joint Separation. Large deformity at the right distal clavicle suggesting ...

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