How To Tell If You Have A Separated Shoulder

Shoulder pain can negatively affect your day-to-day life. According to the American Back Center, shoulder pain can cause your mood to lower, which may drive depression. Further, you can experience anger, frustration, and find yourself irritated by many things. These adverse effects of shoulder pain can reduce the quality of your relationships and your ability to work.

While you may feel like you are alone, you are not. In fact, over 7 million Americans went to the doctor for shoulder problems in 2006 (per American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons). A 2021 study published in the journal Archives of Physiotherapy found that shoulder pain prevalence may increase with age among those with physically demanding jobs.

Shoulder pain can be caused by a number of factors. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, people commonly injure their shoulders during sports or activities that involve repetitive or overhead movements. Sports like swimming or tennis, exercises like lifting weights, and activities like gardening commonly lead to shoulder injuries.

A separated shoulder is a type of ligament tear that damages the connection between the shoulder blade and the collarbone (per Cleveland Clinic). Notably, this injury is not the same as a dislocated shoulder (per MedlinePlus). Here's everything you need to know about this injury, which can occur as a result of repetitive movement or trauma such as accidents.

Signs and treatment

The symptoms of a separated shoulder can vary based on the severity of the injury. According to Cedars Sinai, the shoulder may be tender to the touch at the AC joint, which is where the collarbone and shoulder blade meet. There may also be pain or swelling, and you may have a limited range of motion.

If the injury is mild, there may be a little pain and swelling, but the shoulder may appear to be normal. If the injury is more critical, intense pain and swelling could accompany bruising and deformity of the shoulder. Separated shoulders may be identifiable because sometimes the injury can cause the shoulder to hang lower than usual (via MedlinePlus), or the collarbone might protrude through the skin.

If you believe you may have a separated shoulder, visit your doctor. Per MedlinePlus, your doctor may perform a physical exam, an x-ray, or possibly an MRI to confirm whether or not you have the condition.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, not all separated shoulders require surgery. You may need a sling in addition to ice, pain-reducing medications like ibuprofen, and a physical therapy routine after the injury heals. Severe deformities, weakened arm muscles, or numb fingers may be signs of a more serious injury that may require surgery.