Sternoclavicular Joint Sprain

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Sternoclavicular Joint Sprain (SC Sprain) Overview

Sternoclavicular (SC) joint sprains are often referred to as shoulder sprains in the general population. However, shoulder sprains can affect various structures within the shoulder joint, while a sternoclavicular joint sprain is a distinct injury involving a tear of the ligaments that make up this region of the shoulder, and are relatively uncommon. An SC joint sprain is commonly caused when the chest makes impact with an object or force. For example, hitting the steering wheel during an automobile accident or taking a tackle during a football game. Dr. Jeff Padalecki, shoulder specialist serving patients in the greater Austin, Texas communities, specializes in diagnosing and treating shoulder pain and other troublesome symptoms associated with a SC sprain.

The SC joint is the primary attachment to the main skeleton for the upper torso, as well as the main connection between the shoulder and arm responsible for providing support. Injuries to the SC joint are not as common as other structures of the shoulder, but injuries such as an SC sprain can occur. SC joint sprains are graded on a scale from I to III:

  • Grade I: A Grade I sprain indicates a minor tear within the SC ligaments. All structures within the joint remain connected. This tear can typically be seen only under a microscope.
  • Grade II: A Grade II sprain indicates a tear between the collarbone and breastbone that is more visible without a microscope. While the tear is larger and causes an increase in symptoms, the ligaments surrounding this area still remain intact.
  • Grade III: A Grade III sprain indicates all of the ligaments within the SC region have suffered trauma. When this type of sprain occurs, the ligaments become so damaged the joint can become separated.

SC Sprain Symptoms

The majority of patients who experience a sternoclavicular joint sprain will feel a sudden onset of pain in the SC joint area. In less severe grades of injury, the pain may only be present when the arm is lifted overhead, moved across the body or when lifting objects. In more severe grades of injury, the pain may be so severe the patient cannot perform normal, everyday activities without cradling the arm. Certain patients may also experience swelling, bruising and a visible deformity at the front of the chest, typically caused by tearing of the connective tissue holding the SC joint together.

SC Sprain Diagnostic Testing

In order to diagnosis an SC sprain, Dr. Padalecki will perform a thorough medical review and physical examination. He will also move the injured shoulder to determine areas of shoulder pain, weakness and instability. X-rays and an MRI scan may also be performed to determine the extent of the SC joint sprain and rule out any other possible shoulder injuries.

SC Sprain Treatment

Treatment for an SC joint sprain depends on the severity of the injury. A grade I SC sprain can typically heal with non-surgical measures such as ice, anti-inflammatory medications, a sling and physical therapy. A grade II SC sprain typically heals with similar conservative measures as a grade I injury, but arthroscopic shoulder surgery may be necessary in more severe cases. A grade III SC sprain requires arthroscopic surgery in the majority of cases to repair the damaged ligaments.

SC Sprain Post-Op

Immediately following shoulder surgery, patients will start shoulder motion under the direction of a physical therapist. Patients will be encouraged to wear a sling for several weeks following surgery for protection as the repaired area heals. Eventually, after the ligaments heal, patients will be allowed to progressively strengthen the shoulder and discard the sling.

For additional information on an SC joint sprain, or to learn more about treatment options for a sternoclavicular joint sprain, please contact Dr. Jeff Padalecki, orthopedic shoulder specialist in the Austin, Texas communities.