Shoulder separation refers to an injury to the ligaments that hold the bones together at the top of the shoulder. It is usually caused by falling onto the shoulder or onto an outstretched arm. Early treatment by a shoulder specialist at Lancaster Orthopedic Group is important in order to prevent future shoulder problems.

Symptoms of shoulder separation include tenderness, swelling and inflammation over the joint. Initially, pain may be widespread throughout the shoulder but may eventually localize to a point on top of the shoulder over the site of the injury. Pain is usually worse when moving the arm overhead. In more severe injuries, there may be a visible bump or lump on top of the shoulder.

Shoulder separations are graded from 1 to 6 based on the extent of ligament damage and the space between the bones. Grade 1 represents minor ligament damage and no separation of the bones. Grade 6 represents the most severe injury and involves the full rupture of the ligaments and displacement of the bones with a visible deformity.

Initial treatment involves applying ice and a compression wrap as soon as possible to reduce pain and swelling. Wearing a sling to immobilize the shoulder and take the weight off of the arm and taking anti-inflammatory medications may help to ease the pain.

Injuries graded 1 to 3 can generally be treated without surgery by taping the joint into the correct position to support it while the shoulder heals. Injuries graded 4 to 6 that do not respond to conservative treatment may require surgery.