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From the Trainer’s Room: What is a separated shoulder?


Can you tell me what a “separated shoulder” is?

It’s not the same as a dislocated shoulder and you may be surprised to know how many professional players have sustained this injury. In fact, when I recently spoke with Joe Huff, the head athletic trainer for the Anaheim Ducks, he said it may be one of the more common injuries he has seen at the NHL level.

A separated shoulder is a sprain that occurs at the acromioclavicular (AC) joint of the shoulder complex. This is where the collar bone and shoulder blade connect to form a joint that supports the glenohumeral (GH) joint, or the ball and socket joint of the shoulder. When ligaments that hold the AC joint together are damaged, there may be a visible bump on top of the shoulder depending on the severity of the sprain. Symptoms include pain at the top of the shoulder, often following a fall onto the shoulder or on an outstretched arm. The pain may be widespread throughout the shoulder initially but later on more localized to a bony point on the top of the shoulder.

One grading system of AC joint injuries uses three grades. Grade I has very little, if any, tearing. Grade III is a complete rupture of the ligaments. Based on the severity, the rehabilitation time will also vary. A Grade I can take around 10-14 days, whereas a grade III takes six to eight weeks. A Grade II takes somewhere in between. If you sustain an AC sprain, seek out a sports rehabilitation professional who can guide you through a proper shoulder strengthening program dependent on the severity of your injury.

Several components factor into a good rehabilitation program. Huff adds that good quality and proper-fitting protective equipment assist the strengthening shoulder program in preventing AC separations. Isometric exercises for the shoulder are a great place to start. The athlete can then progress to resistive band exercises to increase the strength of the supportive muscles. These include internal/external rotation of the GH joint, rows, lateral raises, and abduction raises.

Seek out a sports rehabilitation professional, such a certified athletic trainer, who can guide you through a proper shoulder strengthening program.

Mike Hannegan is an athletic trainer and strength coach with 10 years’ experience in the NHL with the Anaheim Ducks and St. Louis Blues. He is currently the director of the Compete Sports Performance and Rehabilitation facility inside The Rinks-Yorba Linda Ice, located in beautiful Orange County, Calif. He can be reached at

(March 2, 2023)

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