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.
Signs and symptoms of a separated shoulder may include:
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
A separated shoulder can usually be identified during a physical exam. X-rays can sometimes confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the injury. But in many people who have a separated shoulder, early X-rays are often normal.
Most people enjoy a full recovery after conservative treatment. A minor separation may heal within a few weeks. A more severe separation may take several weeks to months to heal. You may always have a noticeable bump on the affected shoulder, but it shouldn't affect your ability to use that shoulder.
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) may help ease shoulder pain.
Rest. Avoid activities that aggravate your shoulder pain, especially crossing the affected arm in front of your body. You might want to temporarily immobilize your arm in a sling to take pressure off your shoulder and promote healing.
Ice. Ice can reduce shoulder pain and swelling. Use a cold pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
Physical therapy. Stretching and strengthening exercises can help restore strength and motion in your shoulder.
Surgical and other procedures
If pain persists or if you have a severe separation, surgery might be an option. Surgery can reconnect torn ligaments and reposition or stabilize injured bones.