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Am J Sports Med. 2001 Nov-Dec;29(6):699-703.

A prospective evaluation of untreated acute grade III acromioclavicular separations.

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  • 1Department of Orthopaedics, University of Utah Medical Center, Salt Lake City, USA.


We prospectively studied the natural history of untreated acute grade III acromioclavicular separations. Twenty-five patients were treated nonoperatively with a sling for comfort through progressive early range of motion as tolerated. Ten additional uninjured subjects underwent strength testing to evaluate the difference between the dominant and nondominant sides so that patient data could be standardized. The patients were examined at intervals of 6, 12, 24, 36, and 52 weeks after injury, at which time they completed a subjective questionnaire and underwent isometric dynamometer testing as well as military press and bench press strength testing. One patient underwent a surgical procedure at 2 weeks after injury because of cosmetic concerns. Twenty of the 25 patients completed the 1-year evaluation and strength-testing protocol. Subjectively, 4 of the 20 patients (20%) thought that their long-term outcome was suboptimal, although for 3 of them it was not enough to warrant surgery. Objective examination and strength testing of the 20 patients revealed no limitation of shoulder motion in the injured extremity and no difference between sides in rotational shoulder muscle strength. The bench press was the only strength test that showed a significant short-term difference, with the injured extremity being an average of 17% weaker. This study documents the natural history of patients with an untreated acute grade III acromioclavicular separation and provides a reference with which to judge all other proposed methods of treatment.

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