AC Joint Arthritis

A specific type of arthritis impacting the AC joint in the shoulder, AC joint arthritis is commonly found in middle-aged patients. If you have been experiencing limited range of motion and pain in your shoulder, you might be suffering from AC joint arthritis.

When you’re dealing with pain from AC joint arthritis, you need the best treatment from Dr. John Andrachuk to help you. With many years of experience treating several types of shoulder injuries, including AC joint arthritis, Dr. Andrachuk is the right Orthopedic Sports Medicine surgeon in Atlanta for you.

Overview of AC Joint Arthritis

What is AC Joint Arthritis?

The AC joint, also called the acromioclavicular joint, is located at the top of the shoulder. It’s found where the scapula or shoulder blade meets with the collarbone or clavicle. 

When you suffer from arthritis in this area of the body, it’s known as AC joint arthritis. It’s the most common type of arthritis found in the shoulder and typically starts with gradual pain and tenderness. The most common type of AC joint arthritis is osteoarthritis, but it can come in several forms.

AC Joint Osteoarthritis

AS the most common type of arthritis affecting the AC Joint, osteoarthritis may cause cartilage loss. As it develops, the cartilage in the shoulder may become thin or even disappear. While the body might try to create new cells, it’s often not enough to fully replace the lost cartilage.

Since the cartilage doesn’t contain nerves, as it degenerates, it might not cause pain. It’s not uncommon for those suffering from AC joint arthritis to have very few if any symptoms.

AC Joint Arthritis Symptoms

While some forms of AC joint arthritis might not come with any symptoms, it’s also possible you will experience symptoms, such as:

  • Pain at the top of the shoulder
  • Tenderness around the joint
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Pain when sleeping on the shoulder
  • A compression of the joint
  • Swelling at the joint
  • Snap or click sound as you move your shoulder

It’s common to experience some of these symptoms if you’re suffering from AC joint arthritis. If you’ve injured your shoulder in the past, you will likely hear a snap or click sound when moving your shoulder.

Most Common Causes of AC Joint Arthritis

The most common cause of AC joint arthritis is wear and tear. Over time, if you put stress on your shoulder, it can cause the cartilage to wear down and arthritis may occur.

Some of the other causes of AC join arthritis include:

  • Overhead lifting constantly
  • Repetitive motions using the shoulder
  • A history of shoulder injuries
  • Bone marrow lesions
  • Abnormal bony growths

While wear and tear is the most common cause of AC joint arthritis, it can also be caused by injuries and a few other things.

Most Common Risk Factors for AC Joint Arthritis

Athletes and those performing a job causing them to lift anything above their shoulders regularly are common risk factors. Since this type of shoulder injury often comes from wear and tear over time, it’s common for anybody repeating a motion with the shoulders to suffer from AC joint arthritis later in life.

How AC Joint Arthritis is Diagnosed

A physical exam will be performed by your doctor to help diagnose AC joint arthritis. Your doctor will likely ask you about your pain level and perform an examination to figure out your range of motion. 

Along with a physical exam, your doctor may use a lidocaine injection to relieve the pain temporarily. This can help to confirm the diagnosis. 

An AC joint X-ray may also be used to show the narrowing of the joint. An X-ray can also show any bone spurs around the joint to help diagnose AC joint arthritis.

While less common, your doctor may also order blood tests to check for rheumatoid arthritis and to exclude other diseases. MRI scans can also be used to diagnose AC joint arthritis.

AC Joint Arthritis Treatment

Both surgical and non-surgical treatment options are available for AC joint arthritis. The treatment options available will depend on the severity of the arthritis. If you’re suffering from a mild AC joint arthritis case, non-surgical options will likely be offered to treat your condition.

Some of the most common non-surgical options for treatment include:

  • Activity modification – You may have to give up things, such as golfing and weight lifting for a while to allow the shoulder to heal.
  • Ice/Heat – Ice can be used to help relieve the swelling, while heat can be used to help loosen up a stiff AC joint.
  • Physical Therapy – A very common option for treating AC joint arthritis, certain exercises can be used to help stretch and strengthen the muscles within the shoulder.
  • Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs – Taking ibuprofen or aspirin may help to reduce the inflammation and pain in the shoulder.
  • AC Joint Arthritis Cortisone Injection – A steroid injection can be used to reduce swelling, stiffness, and pain in the shoulder.

These treatment options are used mostly with mild AC joint arthritis. More severe cases will likely require surgery.

Types of AC Joint Arthritis Surgery

Most doctors will attempt to treat AC joint arthritis with nonsurgical options first. However, if the arthritis is severe or nonsurgical treatments don’t work, surgery might be necessary. 

Resection Arthroplasty

One of the most common types of surgery used to treat AC joint arthritis is a resection arthroplasty. This type of surgery is done by removing a small piece of the collarbone from the end. The space will fill with scar tissue and help to treat the range of motion issues associated with AC joint arthritis.

Shoulder surgery is less common in patients without any other shoulder issues. However, those suffering from AC joint arthritis and other shoulder problem tend to need surgery to treat the issues.

AC Joint Arthritis Surgery Recovery Time

After surgery to treat AC joint arthritis the recovery time will vary from one patient to another. Typically, the patient will be able to start post-operative physical therapy within 2 to 5 days. 

Patients will use a sling for the first few days after shoulder surgery. The overall recovery time tends to range from about two to three months.

Schedule an Appointment Today!

With extensive experience treating AC joint arthritis, Dr. Andrachuk had helped many patients suffering from pain and a lack of range of motion. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of AC joint arthrosis, it’s time to seek medical help. Dr. Andrachuk provides many treatment options ranging from conservative to the latest arthroscopic and minimally invasive options. Contact us today and schedule your in-person or telemedicine appointment!