Patient Stories

What began as a relaxing day at her parents’ horse farm ended up quite differently for Michelle.Riding in a fast-moving four wheeler, she was thrown from the vehicle and landed full force on her right shoulder. In shock and in pain, Michelle went to an urgent care center for an X-ray. “The minute I moved my arm to turn it out for the X-ray, I felt the most excruciating pain,” recalls the 46-year-old from Arlington. “I knew I’d done something really bad to my shoulder.”

Michelle had suffered a grade 5acromioclavicular (AC)joint separation, the most severe form of injury to the ligaments that hold the collarbone to the shoulder blade.Also known as a separated shoulder or AC joint sprain, the injury ranges from mild,in which the ligaments are stretched, to acute, in which the ligaments are completely torn and the shoulder is noticeably out of position. The most common cause is a fall directly on the point of the shoulder.  

Most AC joint sprains are mild and get better without surgery. Treatment includes rest, over-the-counter pain medications, immobilizing the shoulder in a sling, physical therapy and AC joint taping. For more serious injuries, such as Michelle’s, surgery is recommended to prevent permanent debilitation.In this procedure, the surgeon makes a four-inch incision over the AC joint, brings the separated ligaments together, and secures them with stiches or surgical hardware. 

Because her injury was so severe, Michelle wore a sling for a week before surgery and six weeks afterward. She managed to type with one hand so she could telework for four weeks before returning to her job with the Department of Defense. When she started physical therapy, the first few weeks focused on stretching out her biceps, arm and shoulder muscles and slowly working on her mobility. Later, she began exercises to strengthen her arm and shoulder.  

She is grateful for the everyday things she can do again, such as hold a hair dryer over her head, and appreciates the care she received at OrthoVirginia. “Everyone gave me professional, personalized service,” she says. “As terrible as my injury was, it turned out to be a positive experience.”