Rehabilitation & Recovery

7 Easy Ac Joint Exercises For Acromioclavicular Separation

ac joint exercises

If you’ve recently suffered from an AC joint injury, you’re probably considering some suitable ac joint exercises which can help to reduce pain and increase your range of motion.  

Treatment options for an AC joint injury will usually depend on the severity of the injury.  

In this article, we’ll recommend some exercises to target your ac joint that you can perform in the comfort of your home

It’s important to remember that mobility exercises should only be performed once the ligaments have healed, and you don’t experience any pain during normal daily activities.  

Before committing to a new exercise program, it’s a good idea to seek the advice from a qualified physical therapist.  

Understanding AC Joint Injuries

The AC joint, or acromioclavicular joint, is where the collarbone and shoulder blades meet. Whilst it may be a small joint, it plays an important role in shoulder mobility by aiding with shoulder extension.  

best Ac Joint Exercises

The most common AC joint injuries tend to be ac joint sprains.  

The mechanism of injury can vary, but usually this traumatic injury is caused by direct force to the shoulder.  

This makes them a regular occurrence amongst young athletes who partake in certain contact sports such as martial arts and American football, where direct blows to the shoulder happen often.  

That being said, AC joint injuries aren’t limited to just athletes, many people can sustain these types of injuries through falls and other such accidents.  

The severity of the injury is determined by the Rockwood classification and will range from a grade 1 mild sprain through to a severe grade 5 shoulder separation.  

If you’ve suffered with a mild sprain, this can often rectify itself with plenty of rest and ice pack treatments and perhaps a little physiotherapy. 

shoulder recovery ice pack

However, in the case of severe separation injuries surgery will likely be the best form of treatment.  

AC joint injuries can result in shoulder pain and often be quite debilitating, but with proper treatment and rehabilitation a full recovery is the most likely outcome.  

Signs and Symptoms of AC Joint Injuries

If you experience pain or discomfort in the top of your shoulder, you may have an AC joint injury.  

Some of the most common signs to look out for include the following: 

  • Pain or tenderness to the top of the shoulder.
  • Swelling or bruising around the AC joint.
  • Pain that worsens when reaching across the body or lifting objects.
  • A clicking or popping sound when moving the shoulder.
  • Weakness in the shoulder or arm.
  • Decreased range of motion to the injured arm.  

If you notice any of the above symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis. Your health care provider may perform a physical examination and recommend a suitable treatment plan.  

3 Treatment Options For AC Joint Injuries

If you’ve suffered from an AC joint injury, there are several treatment options available to you and in most cases, nonoperative treatment is the first line of treatment.

Initial Treatment

To begin with complete rest and regularly applying ice packs are likely to be recommended to help reduce pain and any swelling.

Over-the-counter pain management medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be suggested to manage any pain.  

nsaid inflamatory inhibitors

Non-Operative Treatment

Rehabilitation protocols often include physical therapy which may help to increase your range of motion and strengthen the shoulder of the injured arm.

Specific range-of-motion exercises which focus on the rotator cuff muscles can help to stabilize the shoulder joint and reduce the risk of further injury.

shoulder rehabilitation

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a corticosteroid injection to help reduce inflammation and pain in the joint.

Surgical Intervention

In the most severe cases of ac joint separation, surgery may be necessary to repair the damaged joint.  This may involve repairing or reconstructing the ac ligament that holds the joint together.

Post operative care usually consists of a course of physical therapy treatment to help rebuild strength and increase range of motion to the shoulder. 

shoulder surgery for ac joint

AC Joint Exercises

If you’ve suffered from an AC joint injury, it’s important to engage in exercises that will help you regain strength and mobility to your shoulder. 

Below we suggest some examples of exercises that can help to decrease pain and help improve your range of motion.  

However, it’s important to note that the exercises you choose should depend on the severity of your injury and the stage of your recovery. 

Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any exercise program.

Pendulum Swings

Pendulum exercises involve using your body weight to create momentum so that the weight of the arm gently swings alleviating pressure on the joint.

It can be performed several times each day as it’s very low impact.  

  1. Start by standing in front of the back of a chair.
  2. Lean forwards and hold the chair with your arm. 
  3. Allow your injured to simply hang down towards the floor. 
  4. Start to rotate your legs and hip keeping your hanging arm completely relaxed.  
  5. Your injured arm should start to gently swing from side to side, like a pendulum. 
  6. Do this for around 5 minutes.  

Scapular Retraction

Scapular exercises specifically target the muscles of your upper back whilst helping to limit stress on your neck, shoulders, and upper spine.  

It simply involves squeezing your shoulder blades together.  

This exercise can be performed daily, and your range of motion should improve over time.  

  1. Stand upright and facing a wall. 
  2. Place both hands up against the wall so that your arms are parallel to the floor. 
  3. Slowly lean your upper chest towards the wall squeezing your shoulder blades together as you go. 
  4. Pause for 2 seconds and then press back up.  
  5. Repeat this movement for 10 repetitions and complete 2 sets.  

Banded External Rotations

Strength exercises allow you to use a small amount of resistance to increase shoulder strength and improve stability to the joint.  

You’ll need to use a resistance band to perform the external rotation exercise.  

  1. Start by standing upright holding a band with both hands. 
  2. Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, position your lower arms so they’re parallel to the ground. 
  3. With your elbows in place, rotate your shoulders outward so that the band begins to stretch.
  4. Move your arms out as far as you can without feeling any pain or discomfort.  
  5. From here, slowly bring your arms back in to the starting position. 
  6. Repeat this exercise for 2 sets of 10 reps. 

Bird Dog Exercise

Whilst the bird dog isn’t a specific ac joint exercise, it is a kinetic chain exercise.  

The kinetic chain includes our shoulder joint along with the neck and upper back.  

  1. Position yourself in a tabletop position on a mat. 
  2. Your hands should be under your shoulders and your knees should be directly under your hips. 
  3. Extend one leg straight out behind whilst pointing your toe. 
  4. At the same time, reach your opposite arm out in front of you.  
  5. Hold this position for a couple of seconds before lowering your arm and leg back down. 
  6. Repeat 5 to 10 repetitions on each side.  

Scapular Clocks

Scapular clocks are a great exercise to help improve mobility to your scapulothoracic joint and can help to stabilize and strengthen your rotator cuff muscles.  

You’ll need a closed loop resistance band to complete this exercise.

  1. Take your resistance band and place it around your wrists. 
  2. Stand in front of a wall and place both hands on the wall keeping your arms straight.  Your hands should be in line with your shoulders. 
  3. Now squeeze your shoulder blades back and down.  
  4. From here, begin to move your right hand to different positions as though touching an imaginary clock on the wall. 
  5. So, 1 o’clock through to 5 o’clock for your right hand.  Make sure you always keep tension on the band. 
  6. Keep moving your hand to different clock positions for around 15 to 20 reps. 
  7. Swap to work your left and move through clock positions 7 o’clock through to 11 o’clock.  

Seated Rotation With A Dowel

This is a very gentle exercise that can help to improve your range of motion making daily activities much more comfortable to perform.  

You’ll need access to something like a long dowel rod or broom handle, to complete this exercise.  

  1. Take a seat on the edge of a chair and keep your back straight with your head and chest up. 
  2. Hold on to the broom handle with both hands using a supinated grip and at shoulder width apart, your palms will be facing the ceiling. 
  3. Keeping your elbows tucked into your sides, rotate your arms so that the handle moves to one side.  
  4. Now move it back and across to the other side.  
  5. Complete 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions.  

Seated Horizontal Adduction

This exercise involves moving your arm across your body to help stretch out the shoulder muscles and improve mobility.  

You can also perform this one lying down if you’d prefer.  

This movement can place more demands on the ac joint so only move your arm through a range of motion that feels comfortable.  

  1. Take a seat on the edge of a chair and maintain a good posture with your back straight. 
  2. Hold your injured arm straight out in front of you so that it’s parallel to the ground, your palm should be facing the floor. 
  3. Take your free arm and take hold of the wrist of your injured arm.  This is your starting position.  
  4. Keeping your injured arm straight bring it across your body’s midline and then return back to the starting position. 
  5. Complete 8 to 12 repetitions. 

Preventing AC Joint Injuries

It probably goes without saying that if you’re an an athlete or someone who likes to engage in extreme sports, you’re more at risk of injuring your AC joint.

However, there are some things you can do to try and prevent AC joint injuries.

Warm-Up

Before any physical activity, it is important to properly warm up your muscles and joints and get the blood flowing. This may help prevent soft tissue injuries, including those to the AC joint.  

A good warm-up can include light cardio, stretching, and mobility exercises.

Proper Technique

Using proper form when exercising is important to prevent injuries and to ensure you get the most out of your workouts.  

For example, if you’re performing an exercise such as the overhead press, make sure to keep your shoulders down and back to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the AC joint. 

Gradual Progression

Gradually increasing the intensity and volume of your workouts can help prevent AC joint injuries.

If you try to do too much too soon, you may be putting too much stress on your AC joint, which can lead to injury.

Make sure to progress slowly and give your body time to adapt.

Full Strength

Having full strength in your shoulders and upper back can help prevent AC joint injuries.  

What’s more strengthening these muscles can improve your posture and even help to improve things such as low back pain.  

​Final Thoughts

Incorporating AC joint exercises into your day can be highly beneficial for improving shoulder strength, stability, and overall functional performance.

The above exercises are specifically aimed at targeting your acromioclavicular joint, allowing you to build strength, prevent injuries, and improve your range of motion.

However, don’t neglect the surrounding muscles.  

Also add in exercises to activate your deltoids, trapezius, and rotator cuff muscles, as by improving strength to these muscles can help to support and protect your AC joint.  

AC joint exercises can help those of you who are recovering from shoulder injuries and looking to rehabilitate and strengthen your shoulders.  

Remember to consult with a qualified healthcare professional or a certified trainer before starting out with any of the above exercises, especially if you have a history of shoulder injuries or pre-existing conditions

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