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What Can I Expect from Acromioclavicular Surgery?

There are various reasons that a person's acromioclavicular joint may require surgery, such as arthritis and injuries.
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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 05 July 2014
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A person's acromioclavicular (AC) joint is located in the shoulder and it connects the collarbone with the scapula, which is part of the shoulder blade. This joint may require surgery for several reasons, such as arthritis, injuries, or a separation, which occurs when the joint becomes dislocated, or moves out of place. The exact procedure and recovery time for acromioclavicular surgery will vary, depending on the extent of the damage to the joint and the surgical techniques used. Patients who undergo arthroscopic acromioclavicular surgery, which uses very small instruments, will have a shorter recovery time than those who require more extensive surgery. A recovery from these procedures will involve rest and physical therapy.

Not everyone is a good candidate for acromioclavicular surgery. Those who have a mild joint separation will be treated with other methods first. Patients with arthritis in the shoulder joint will also first need to try other treatments, such as physical therapy and cortisone shots. If treatments like rest, medication, and physical therapy are ineffective, a doctor may recommend undergoing surgery to repair the damaged AC joint.

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To prepare for an acromioclavicular surgery, patients must disclose all other medical conditions they have, as well as any medications or supplements they take. Certain drugs may need to be discontinued for a period of time prior to the procedure. The surgeon will discuss the anesthesia he will use, which may include regional anesthesia to numb the area or general anesthesia to render the patient unconscious. Patients should arrange to have someone else drive them home for the hospital and to help them around the house for a few weeks while their mobility is limited.

The exact procedure for acromioclavicular surgery will vary, depending on the needs of the individual patient. Surgeons may use arthroscopic techniques and a few very small incisions, or they may need a larger incision for more extensive repair. If the cartilage is severely worn down due to arthritis, the patient may need a small portion of the collarbone removed to alleviate the pain. This procedure may also help address a joint separation. In a Weaver-Dunn procedure, part of the collarbone is removed and the ligaments are re-attached to restore the proper joint position.

Recovery times can also vary widely, depending on the procedure used and the extent of the damage. Patients should typically be able to return home on the day of surgery. They should expect to wear a sling for several weeks and to keep the affected arm immobilized for about two to three weeks. Physical therapy should begin as soon as possible to restore range-of-motion and flexibility to the AC joint. A full recovery from acromioclavicular surgery may take as long as six months.

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