Depending on the severity of your separated shoulder, there are a variety of rehabilitation exercises designed to get you back into action. A separated shoulder is caused by a blow to the shoulder. Most commonly, it occurs after a fall or from injuries incurred while playing physical sports such as hockey, football, and rugby. In cases where a separated shoulder is less severe, it can usually be rehabilitated without surgery, and you will normally regain normal function within a few weeks.
What Is a Separated Shoulder?
Contrary to the name, a separated shoulder is not an injury to the shoulder joint itself. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, website, "Your Orthopedic Connection," a separated shoulder is actually an injury to the acromioclavicular joint, or AC joint, located where the collarbone meets the highest point of the shoulder blade.
When you separate your shoulder, the ligaments on the underside of the collarbone can stretch or tear, causing the "separation" of the collarbone and wingbone. These are ligaments that surround and stabilize the AC joint.
Types of Separated Shoulders
Separated shoulders are classified in two ways. Sometimes separated shoulders are classified as mild, more serious, and severe. A separation is mild when X-rays appear normal. More serious shoulder separations reveal a torn AC joint. Severely separated shoulders occur when there is a complete tearing of ligaments that cause the AC joint to be pulled out of position.
Separated shoulders are also classified from Type I, the least severe, to Type VI, the most severe. According to Ohio Health Online, the first three types usually don't require surgery and types IV, V, and VI often require surgery.
General Rehab Exercises for a Separated Shoulder
The Sports Science Orthopedic Clinic lists nine specific general rehabilitation exercises for separated shoulders.
One example is the Overhead Stretch. Lie on your back with your arms at your sides. Lift one arm straight up over your head. Grab your elbow and exert gentle pressure to stretch the arm as far as you can. The other eight exercises are similar.
Another example is the Towel Stretch. Drape a towel over your opposite shoulder; behind your back, grab the bottom end of the towel with the hand on the same side where the towel is draped. Gently pull the other end of towel upward with your other hand. You should feel the stretch in your shoulder and upper arm.
A third example is Shoulder Flexion. Stand close to a wall. With the palm of the injured side turned to face you, slowly slide the forearm and then the upper arm up the wall by moving closer to the wall. Slide the arm upward to the point of initial significant pain. Hold this position for 10 seconds, return to the starting position, and relax for 10 seconds. Repeat 10 times at least three times daily.
Other Rehab Exercises for Separated Shoulders
If your separated shoulder prevents you from training normally, the Sports Science Orthopedic Clinic recommends some alternative forms of training, providing that you are able to do them without pain. Pain indicates an aggravation of the shoulder injury. Such forms of training include riding a stationary bicycle, walking, jogging or running, and swimming.
After Surgery for a Separated Shoulder
If you require surgery to repair a separated shoulder, your arm will be in a sling for a time before you can start rehab exercises, preferably under the direction of a physical therapist. The therapist will provide exercises to improve your range of motion, resistance, power, muscular endurance, flexibility, and coordination.