What is acromioclavicular arthritis?

Acromioclavicular arthritis is a condition that affects the acromioclavicular joint of the shoulder. This might be due to osteoarthritis, post-traumatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Take note that this is quite common with advancing age, but rheumatoid arthritis can trigger the development of this condition at any age.


Osteoarthritis is a sore condition affecting the joints that is quite common with advancing age. The indicative signs of osteoarthritis include the following:

  • Diminished joint space or narrowing of the space
  • Presence of cysts
  • Subchondral sclerosis or increased bone density below the cartilage
  • Additional bone growth or osteophytes

Individuals who engage in work involving overhead movements such as in weightlifting or construction face a higher risk for developing acromioclavicular arthritis.

Acromioclavicular arthritis

In most cases of acromioclavicular arthritis, there is swelling or tenderness at the AC joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is described as an autoimmune condition where the body initiates an immune response to the synovial tissue of the joint. This can occur in almost any joint in the body and affect individuals at various ages.

The acromioclavicular joint can also be affected by this form of arthritis. Those who have rheumatoid arthritis, the acromioclavicular joint had changes linked to the condition more commonly than the ball and socket joint of the shoulder.

Post-traumatic arthritis

When it comes to post-traumatic arthritis, it is considered as a sub-type of osteoarthritis that develops after sustaining a fracture, separation of the joint or dislocation. In chronic cases of AC joint separations, it can lead to the development of post-traumatic acromioclavicular arthritis.

What are the indications of acromioclavicular arthritis?

The indication of arthritis that affects the acromioclavicular joint does not always correlate well with the X-ray results. The extra bony growths or osteophytes can be evident at the clavicular region of the joint that might correlate better with the symptoms. In most cases, the pain is usually linked with activities involving overhead movement and moving the arm towards the center of the body.

Physical examination

The doctor will perform a full examination of the shoulder. In most cases of acromioclavicular arthritis, there is swelling or tenderness at the AC joint. The cross-arm test is carried out in which the individual is instructed to touch the other shoulder using the affected arm to check if pain is produced. These findings might also be present with other conditions that affect the shoulder and AC joint.

Imaging tests

A MRI and X-ray might be requested by the doctor to further assess the AC joint. When an X-ray is taken, it can reveal arthritis changes but these changes may or may not correlate with the actual degree of pain experienced by the individual. When MRI is performed, it can visualize the joint swelling or edema that might correlate with the symptoms of acromioclavicular arthritis.


The non-surgical treatment for acromioclavicular arthritis include rest, application of ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) as well as modifying activities throughout the day. In some cases, the doctor might inject a steroid into the AC joint.

The surgical approach might be chosen if the non-surgical treatment options failed in managing the symptoms. The surgery involves resecting the clavicular region of the AC joint to increase the joint space in order to minimize the symptoms. The bony growths can also be removed while the ligaments that support the AC joint might be repaired as well.


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