Osteoarthritis in the AC joint

Last modified: December 12, 2019

The AC-joint is a small joint between the collar bone and the shoulder blade. Its full name is the acromioclavicular joint. This joint has a spring-like function between the torso and the arm. A person who is affected by osteoarthritis in the AC-joint has pain whenever they use their arm. Above all, it is usually painful to lift the arm above shoulder height. It can also be painful to lie on the side. Osteoarthritis arises as a result of the articular cartilage, the tissue that covers the ends of the skeletal bones in our joints, breaking down.

Here is more information about osteoarthritis in general.

Signs of osteoarthritis in the AC-joint

If you experience severe pain in the shoulders and toward the neck, this can be a sign of osteoarthritis in the AC-joint. You should then contact a medical professional for a diagnosis. A diagnosis is important as it’s the foundation for getting the right treatment.

In a healthy shoulder, the muscles and joints work in a well-organized pattern. When this interplay is disrupted – for example after overstraining the joint – pain often develops. The pain is felt after physical strain, and the joint feels tender and swollen. The affected person can also find it difficult to perform certain hand or shoulder motions.

Causes of osteoarthritis

There are several reasons that osteoarthritis develops. One of the most common factors is long term, incorrect strain on the body and monotonous movements. Due to this stress, the affected joint changes and is worn down over time. This means that age also plays a certain role. The older the affected person is, the longer the joint may have been subjected to wear and tear. As the stress on the joint increases, the mobility in the joint decreases. Osteoarthritis in the AC-joint can also occur after a fracture or previous injury.

Even though age can be a factor in the development of osteoarthritis of the AC-joint, younger people can also be affected by the disease. For example, it may develop as a result of a dislocation of the shoulder (also called a “luxation”) or a fractured collarbone. Elite athletes can also suffer osteoarthritis of the AC-joint after a hit to the shoulder or an accidental fall. There are several ligaments that keep the AC-joint stable, so in the event of the smallest and most common injuries, strains and ruptures can develop. Therefore, osteoarthritis in the AC-joint is quite common.

How the diagnosis is set

National and international guidelines have established that osteoarthritis is a clinical diagnosis. This means that the diagnosis should be determined by looking at the overall pain picture, the person’s medical history, and the joint function. In certain cases, the diagnosis may need to be confirmed with an additional plain x-ray, but this is generally not used.

Treatment of osteoarthritis in the AC-joint

If the affected person only experiences mild discomfort, pain relief and anti-inflammatory tablets can help. Visiting a physical therapist is also a good idea. The general treatment plan for osteoarthritis involves regular, specific exercise. This strengthens the muscles around the joint as well as the cartilage. This type of training should ideally be combined with the affected person reading about the disease. This increases their understanding of why the treatment works. Eating a healthy diet is also helpful.

In the event of severe pain, an orthopedist can determine if surgery is needed. Surgery for osteoarthritis in the AC-joint occurs under sedation and involves using keyhole technology to remove the osteoarthritic end of the clavicle. The advantage of surgical intervention is that other pain in the shoulder area can be addressed at the same time, which also provides good results.

Other treatment methods

Research is currently being conducted to develop new methods for treating osteoarthritis. Even if exercise is the basis for treatment, symptoms can also be alleviated by injecting cortisone, for example, into the osteoarthritic joint. However, this is not a cure for the actual osteoarthritis. Acupuncture can also be tried as an alternative method for pain relief.

More information about generalized osteoarthritis.