Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis

Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis: That You Need To Know

What is Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis?

Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis or AC joint arthritis is a common cause of shoulder pain and stiffness. However, the most common cause of AC joint arthritis is wear and tear (degeneration) of the cartilage. Usually, our cartilage allows the clavicle (collar bone) and acromion of the wing bone (scapula) to over each other smoothly. The degeneration of cartilage is an age-related condition. That is why it causes stiffness of joints with the progression of age. It affects many joints of the body, such as the hip joint and the knee joint. Other forms of arthritis that affect the AC joint include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, etc.

What are the causes of Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis?

The exact cause of degeneration of cartilage is not known. Many factors increase the risk of getting this condition. These include:

  • Excessive use of the shoulder
  • Past injury or previous surgery of the shoulder joint
  • Occupations or hobbies involving overhead use of arms such as a carpenter or weight lifting
  • Old age (above 50 or 60)
  • Genetics and family history

Other forms of arthritis have their specific causes. For example, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are autoimmune diseases. On the other hand, reactive arthritis is caused by an infection.

What are the symptoms of Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis?

Symptoms of AC joint arthritis include:

  • Pain and tenderness at the top of the shoulder
  • Severe pain during sleep
  • Pain may radiate to the neck and rest of the shoulder
  • Difficulty performing certain motions due to pain
  • A clicking, crunching, or snapping sensation if there was an injury or surgery in the past
  • There may be swelling over the shoulder joint

How to make a diagnosis of Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis?

The doctor will make the diagnosis based on the following:

  • Symptoms such as shoulder pain and tenderness
  • Medical history; which tells about any past injury or surgery of the joint
  • Physical examination: The doctor will perform a cross-body adduction test in which he will support and move your straight arm toward your other shoulder. If you feel pain, you are likely to have AC joint arthritis.
  • Lab tests to check for rheumatoid factor or other antibodies which are positive in rheumatoid arthritis.
  • X-rays can show the loss of joint space due to the degeneration of cartilage and moving of clavicle and acromion towards each other.
  • MRIs can show soft tissue injuries, as well as bone spurs formed due to bone irritation.

What is the prognosis of Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis?

There is no cure for the degenerating cartilage. Activity modifications and other non-surgical help relieve the pain. If the condition does not improve, surgery may become necessary.

What are the treatments of Acromioclavicular Joint Arthritis?

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Rest from activities that cause pain and applying ice and heat over the shoulder
  • Taking over-the-counter painkillers like naproxen as well as other prescription medications. These medications may be in oral or topical form.
  • Steroid injection: Whenever pain persists longer, steroid injection is recommended. Thus, it relieves pain and confirms the diagnosis of AC joint arthritis
  • Platelet Rich Plasma injection: It can regenerate the degenerated joint and reduce pain.
  • Surgery: It is the last resort in which doctors remove the end of the clavicle to make joint movement easy.

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