Can ac joint arthritis cause neck pain?

As we enter our 40s and 50s, arthritis frequently develops in the acromioclavicular (AC) joint in our shoulders. This can be extremely uncomfortable and cause difficulty utilizing your shoulder for everyday tasks and movements. Pain from the Acromioclavicular (AC) joint almost always mimics neck pain.  

AC joint

The AC Joint, also known as the Acromioclavicular Joint, is located in the shoulder where two bones meet: the clavicle (collarbone) and the acromion. The acromion, a component of the scapula (shoulder blade), can be felt near the top border of the shoulder.

The AC joint, like all joints, has cartilage between its two bones. This cartilage permits the acromion and clavicle bones to move without friction.

AC joint Arthritis

AC stands for acromioclavicular joint. It is the joint where the collarbone (clavicle) meets the shoulder blade (scapula). Over time, this joint may become inflammatory or arthritic.

The symptoms of AC joint arthritis include anterior shoulder ache that worsens when the arm is brought across the body. It is frequently observed in weightlifters and heavy laborers. The initial treatment consists of activity adjustment, anti-inflammatory medicines, or an injection of cortisone into the AC joint. If these procedures fail, the end of the collarbone can be removed arthroscopically to eliminate the source of the pain.

Symptoms of AC joint Arthritis

Symptoms of AC joint Arthritis

The major symptom of AC joint pain is pain in the upper shoulder, where the clavicle joins the acromion. The ache gradually spreads to the side of the neck and ear. Certain behaviors that exacerbate the inflammation and pain include: 

  • Performing overhead activities.
  • Sleeping on the injured shoulder.
  • Move the injured arm over the other shoulder.

ACJ osteoarthritis develops gradually, with symptoms becoming increasingly severe and painful. As a result, you may have persistent pain while going about your regular activities and may wake up at night.

AC joint pain symptoms might also appear with an AC joint dislocation. AC joint separation or sprain is the most common cause of AC joint pain. It can occur when the ligaments that connect the shoulder blade to the collarbone become inflamed and detach. The pain ranges from mild (stretched ligaments) to severe (torn ligaments). 

If the ligaments are ripped, it will be felt on top of the shoulder as a bump or’step’.  

People with an AC joint dislocation find it difficult to raise their hands above shoulder level. Similarly, stretching their arms across the midline of the body, above the shoulder level, is equally difficult. 

Causes of AC joint Arthritis

Because our entire shoulder complex can move freely and is used frequently throughout the day, it is more susceptible to wear and tear than other joints. When you elevate your arm in overhead activities, your AC joint gets exposed to increased load. This could be due to regular activities at home or at work. It is also typical in weightlifters and others who frequently carry high loads or weights above their heads.

One of the leading causes of AC joint arthritis is bad posture. If your postural muscles are unable to maintain sufficient biomechanical alignment, your AC joint will not function properly. For example, if you are bent over a desk, your posture will be rounded upper back, forward hanging head, and rounded shoulders. This is not the best resting or beginning posture for movement of your shoulder complex, including your AC joint. 

Repetitive motions in daily or sporting activities that begin with inadequate anatomical alignment can eventually cause increasing pressure on your ligaments and joints. This can lead to the development of AC joint osteoarthritis.

Another cause of AC joint osteoarthritis is an injury to the AC joint, such as a detachment. Falling onto your shoulder might cause your AC joint to separate or dislocate. Even if your shoulder separation and damage heal, you may discover that you are more prone to degeneration in your AC many years later.

Diagnosis of ACJ arthritis

Diagnosis of ACJ arthritis

The diagnosis of AC joint arthritis begins with a series of specific questions about your situation, such as:

  • Where exactly does it hurt?
  • How did the injury occur?
  • What exactly are your symptoms? 
  • Are you experiencing pain? If so, how painful? 

Following the questionnaire, the doctor will perform a physical exam to examine the shoulder’s mobility and strength.
The Shoulder ‘Scarf’ test is frequently positive. This entails moving the outstretched arm along the body. Shoulder abduction exceeding 90 degrees may cause pain.

The clinician may also feel around the bones and the connective tissue between the clavicle and acromion. They may also recommend additional testing, such X-rays or an ultrasound scan.


After your physiotherapist performs an initial assessment and examination, a diagnosis of your shoulder symptoms will be made.  Your physiotherapist will then commence treatment for your AC joint arthritis.

Treatment will initially most commonly be hands-on treatments such as deep and/or soft tissue release of surrounding muscles and fascia, and joint mobilization to ease your pain. Often the pectoralis minor muscle has shortened due to sustained forward rolling of your shoulder and needs to be lengthened. 

Dry needling may also be used to relieve your pain and to eliminate tight muscle bands or inflammation at the site of muscle attachments. As your pain settles, range-of-motion home exercises, and postural and shoulder strengthening exercises will also be prescribed at graduated levels.

Initially, movements are performed with your arm held below your shoulder level. As you improve, expand your rehab activities to incorporate strength training for your rotator cuff and shoulder blade (scapula) muscles. Your goal should be to have your shoulder working with proper biomechanics while minimizing your symptoms.

How will Dr. Joe help you?

How will Dr. Joe help you?

If you’re looking to manage arthritis, it’s essential to consult with healthcare professionals such as rheumatologists, physical therapists, and possibly chiropractors. Will be glad to know that Dr. Joe’s team can fulfill all your expectations about this. Dr. Joe himself is a very well-known chiropractor. They can provide personalized treatment plans that may include medication, physical therapy, lifestyle changes, and possibly complementary practices you should do in your life.


While treating AC joint pain might be difficult, posture adjustment and rehab can help prevent damage caused by overuse.

Can ac joint arthritis cause neck pain? The answer is “YES”. Instability or injury to the AC joint can irritate and disable any or all of these muscles, resulting in neck pain.