SC Separation Overview
Located where the collarbone attaches to the breastbone, the sternoclavicular (SC) joint is held tightly together by ligaments and other fibrous tissue. While sternoclavicular joint separation injuries are somewhat uncommon in patients, sports activities and traumatic events such as falls, car accidents and other activities that cause blunt trauma to the chest or collarbone could lead to an SC separation. Dr. Jeff Padalecki, shoulder specialist located in the greater Austin, Texas area, is well trained and highly experienced at treating SC joint pain caused by an SC separation.
Accounting for less than 5% of all shoulder injuries, SC joint injuries are relatively uncommon. The SC joint is considered a stable joint due to its structure and very strong supporting ligaments. However, a sternoclavicular joint separation can occur when the ligaments that hold the SC joint together become stretched or torn.
An SC separation can range from a mild separated shoulder to a complete tear requiring surgical repair. Physicians typically range SC joint injuries on a Grade 1-3 scale:
- Grade 1: A simple sprain which involves an incomplete tear or stretching of the sternoclavicular and costoclavicular ligaments occurs.
- Grade 2: A partial tear of the costoclavicular ligament and a complete tear of the sternoclavicular ligament occurs.
- Grade 3: A complete tear of the sternoclavicular and costoclavicular ligaments occurs.
SC Separation Symptoms
The most common symptoms associated with a sternoclavicular joint separation are SC joint pain, swelling, tenderness, limited range of motion and displacement of the collarbone.
SC Separation Diagnostic Testing
Dr. Padalecki will conduct a thorough physical examination to feel the bones and soft tissues in the injured area, evaluate range of motion and perform simple tests to locate exact areas of SC joint pain. A sternoclavicular joint separation will be confirmed via an X-ray, CT scan or an MRI, and will help determine the extent of ligament damage.
SC Separation Treatment
Non-surgical measures such as ice, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, immobilization via a sling and periods of rest will help many SC separation injuries heal. More severe injuries may require surgical repair involving reconstruction of the ligament or a stabilization technique to secure and tighten the ligaments. Without proper treatment, the shoulder could continue to subluxate and ongoing SC joint pain and instability could occur.
SC Separation Post-Op
A physical therapy rehabilitation program is extremely important so the shoulder joint can regain strength, range of motion and mobility following surgery. Following an SC separation surgery, patients will start shoulder motion under the direction of a therapist and Dr. Padalecki. Patients will be asked to wear a sling for many weeks following surgery to protect the joint. After the ligaments heal, patients will be allowed to progressively strengthen the shoulder joint and discontinue sling use. Many patients can expect to return to sporting activities around 3 to 4 months after surgery.
For additional information on an SC separation, or to learn more about treatment options for SC joint pain, please contact Dr. Jeff Padalecki, shoulder specialist in the Austin, Texas area.