AC Joint Arthritis Surgery – From Consultation to Treatment

Diagram of the AC Joint


Arthritis is one of the most common causes of joint pain among both women and men. While it tends to be more common as we age, arthritis can affect younger people too — especially athletes and other people who use their joints a lot. Millions of people suffer from shoulder arthritis, with symptoms ranging from a few mild aches to discomfort so severe, it affects their everyday lives. The good news is, even though shoulder arthritis is painful, there are ways to treat it.

Arthritis is a degenerative disease so it gets worse with time. The key is to have treatment as early as possible.

Symptoms of shoulder & AC joint arthritis

Your shoulder has two joints:

  • the glenohumeral joint is the large ball-and-socket part
  • the acromioclavicular joint is where the shoulder blade meets your collarbone

Sometimes, arthritis affects the large ball-and-socket part of the shoulder joint. But most often, it’s the acromioclavicular joint or AC joint that’s affected. That’s why you’ll often hear shoulder arthritis referred to as acromioclavicular joint arthritis or AC arthritis. The symptoms of AC arthritis are similar to arthritis in other joints:

  • Pain when lifting objects or swinging something heavy, like a tennis racket or golf club
  • Pain when using your arms over your head or difficulty raising your arms without pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Warmth in and around the joint
  • A grinding or sticking sensation when you use your shoulder

AC joint pain treatment starts with conservative options, which can include:

  • medicine to relieve pain and swelling
  • physical therapy to restore joint movement
  • joint injections for inflammation and discomfort
  • activity modification to decrease strain on the joint

Sometimes though, these conservative options aren’t enough to relieve pain and stiffness. In those instances, AC joint arthritis surgery may be your best option.

When should I see an orthopedic specialist for AC arthritis surgery consultation?

Shoulder pain is never “normal.” The first step for getting rid of shoulder pain is to schedule an office visit with Dr. Van Thiel. During your visit, he’ll perform a series of tests to help determine what’s causing your pain. You’ll also have imaging tests like X-rays to see “inside” your shoulder joint. He’ll ask you to move your shoulders in different ways to understand how the pain is occurring inside the joint. Unless the joint is badly damaged, your AC joint pain treatment will start with conservative options. If those treatments aren’t enough to resolve your pain, Dr. Van Thiel may recommend AC joint arthritis surgery.

At your consultation visit, Dr. Van Thiel will go over every aspect of the the surgery: how it “works,” what to expect right after your surgery, and what recovery is like. You’ll also be able to ask questions and talk about any concerns you have about the surgery or the healing process. Once the consultation is over, you’ll be able to make an informed, confident decision about your treatment.

AC joint surgery: What types of procedures can be done for AC arthritis pain relief?

As a top-ranked orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Van Thiel is skilled in both open surgery and minimally-invasive surgery called arthroscopy. Most AC arthritis can be successfully treated using this second approach.

In arthroscopic AC joint arthritis surgery, Dr. Van Thiel makes two or three very small incisions near your shoulder. In one incision, he inserts a slim scope, a special instrument that features a tiny camera. The camera takes real-time video pictures of your shoulder joint and sends those images back to a video monitor. The instruments used to perform the surgery are inserted through the other incisions. Arthroscopy has lots of benefits, including less pain and faster healing.

During the surgery, Dr. Van Thiel removes the part of the acromioclavicular joint that’s been damaged by arthritis. This procedure is called AC joint resection, and no artificial component is needed. However, iIn instances where arthritis has “spread” to the larger ball-and-socket part of the joint, all or part of that joint may need to be replaced as well.

What is the recovery time for an ac arthritis surgery procedure?

Recovery following AC joint arthritis surgery typically takes about two to three months.

For a few days after surgery, you’ll need to wear a sling to support the joint and hold it in position.
You’ll need to limit your shoulder activity at first, which means avoiding lifting heavy objects or swinging your arm.
Shortly after your surgery, you’ll begin physical therapy to help restore normal movement to your shoulder.
You’ll also do gentle exercises at home to keep the joint limber.

Shoulder pain is common among people of all walks of life, and it becomes more common with age. Arthritis won’t go away on its own. You need medical care to relieve the pain and restore joint health. To get the right care for your painful shoulder, call OrthoIllinois at (779) 774-1110 and schedule an office visit with Dr. Van Thiel at his Rockford office today.

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