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Separated shoulder

A separated shoulder is an injury to the ligaments that hold your collarbone to your shoulder blade. In a mild separated shoulder, the ligaments may just be stretched. In severe injuries, ligaments may be completely ruptured.

In most people, a separated shoulder doesn't usually require surgery. Instead, conservative treatment — such as rest, ice and pain relievers — is often enough to relieve the pain. Most people regain full shoulder function within a few weeks after experiencing a separated shoulder.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Signs and symptoms of a separated shoulder may include:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Shoulder or arm weakness
  • Shoulder bruising or swelling
  • Limited shoulder movement
  • A bump at the top of your shoulder

When to see a doctor

Contact your doctor if you experience persistent tenderness or pain near the end of your collarbone.

The most common cause of a separated shoulder is a blow to the point of your shoulder or a fall directly on your shoulder. The injury may stretch or tear the ligaments that hold your collarbone to your shoulder blade.

You may be at higher risk of a separated shoulder if you participate in contact sports, such as football and hockey, or in sports that may involve falls — such as downhill skiing, gymnastics and volleyball.

Most people fully recover from a separated shoulder with conservative treatment. Continued shoulder pain is possible, however, if:

  • You have a severe separation that involves significant displacement of the collarbone
  • You develop arthritis in your shoulder
  • Other structures around your shoulder, such as the rotator cuff, are damage
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