The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is a joint at the top of the shoulder. It is the junction between the acromion and the clavicle. This joint can develop degenerative arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Two bones that need to connect but be flexible as well. The ends of the bones are covered with articular cartilage. Articular cartilage provides a slick, rubbery surface that allows the bones to glide over each other as you move. Cartilage also functions as sort of a shock absorber.
AC joint in the shoulder is a common spot for osteoarthritis to develop in middle age. Degeneration of the AC joint can be painful and can cause difficulty using the shoulder for everyday activities.
In its early stages, AC joint osteoarthritis usually causes pain and tenderness in the front of the shoulder around the joint. The pain is often worse when the arm is brought across the chest, since this motion compresses the joint. The pain is vague and may spread to include the shoulder, the front of the chest, and the neck. If the joint has been injured in the past, there may be a bigger bump over the joint on the affected shoulder than on the unaffected shoulder. The joint may also click or snap as it moves.
This condition is more common in people who do a lot of weight lifting. It is also more common with increasing age.
AC joint osteoarthritis may also develop following an injury to the joint, such as an AC joint separation. This injury is fairly common. A separation usually results from falling on the shoulder. The shoulder does heal, but many years later degeneration causes the AC joint to become painful.
Patients with shoulder pain due to acromioclavicular osteoarthritis can usually localize it accurately with one finger on the spot. X rays may show evidence of osteoarthritis.
Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, intra-articular injection with local anaesthetic or steroids combined with physical therapy, oral glucosamine supplements. Occasionally surgical procedures are required if conservative methods do not work.
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