Success rates for surgery on your acromioclavicular joint from shoulder injuries are generally high, with many people able to regain full function and return to sports or normal activity.

Your acromioclavicular (AC) joint is located between a part of your shoulder blade called the acromion process and your collarbone.

Injuries to the AC joint usually occur after direct impact to your shoulder or from falling and catching yourself on your outstretched hand. AC joint injuries make up as many as 40% of shoulder injuries and nearly 10% of injuries in contact sports.

AC joint surgery is used to treat severe AC joint injuries. Currently, there’s no consensus on a gold standard surgery, and the best surgery for you depends on the type and severity of your injury.

Read on to learn more about the success rate for AC joint surgery.

The first AC joint repair occurred in 1917, and since then, more than 150 techniques have been described in the medical literature.

AC joint injuries are categorized from grade 1 to grade 5, depending on their severity, with higher grade injuries being more severe.

Substantial research supports nonsurgical treatment for grade 1 to 2 injuries since conservative treatment has lower complication rates and higher return to activity rates. There’s also much research to support the use of surgery for treating grade 4 to 6 injuries.

Research is mixed on whether grade 3 injuries should be surgically repaired. Grade 3 AC joint injuries feature complete disruptions of the attached ligaments with complete separation of the shoulder blade and the collarbone.

Success rates vary widely between studies based on factors like:

  • the specific situations of the people in the study
  • severity of injury
  • type of surgery

Return to sport

In one 2022 study, researchers examine the recovery of nine Australian Football League players with grade 3 to 5 injuries. All the players returned to sport within 13 weeks, and 62% returned to their preinjury level of competition by an average follow-up of about 2 years after surgery.

In a 2019 review, researchers found that 84% of 401 people with grade 3 to 6 injuries returned to their same level of sport, and 9% returned to their sport at a lower level.

A 2018 study found that 82.4% of 17 people with grade 3 to 5 injuries returned to their pre-injury level of sports participation at a follow-up an average of about 2.5 years after surgery.

Success rates in middle-aged adults

In another study, researchers examined the recovery of 43 people between the ages of 42 and 54 with grade 3 to 4 injuries. They found 81% of people received significant benefit and 49% reached a “patient acceptable symptomatic state,” meaning that if their symptoms improved more, they would consider themselves symptom-free.


In a 2020 study, 12 of 15 people with grade 3 injuries rated their surgical outcome as very good, 3 rated it as good, and none were dissatisfied.

All 24 people in a 2020 study who received joint construction using a surgical method called ligament augmentation reconstruction system said they would have the operation again if needed.

Revision surgery success rates

In yet another study, researchers found that significant improvements were maintained for 10 years in nine people from ages 34 to 55 whose first surgery failed and required revision.

Complication rates of AC surgery vary between about 5% and 30% depending on the type of surgery.

In a 2020 study, researchers reported a 17% complication rate in 29 people with grade 3 to 5 injuries. Reported complications were:

Other potential complications include:

AC joint surgery is usually used to treat grade 4 to 6 injuries. There remains disagreement if they should be used for grade 3 injuries.

Your recovery time depends on factors such as the severity of your injury and surgery type.

You may be allowed to carry weight and participate in noncontact sports 3 months after surgery. You’ll likely have no restrictions after 6 months.

In the 2022 study, researchers found that Australian Football League players returned to competition an average of 8.6 weeks after surgery. Two of the players with grade 5 injuries returned in 6 weeks.

Learn more about the recovery timeline for AC joint surgery.

Minor AC joint injuries can usually be treated without surgery. Conservative treatment options include:

Learn more about treatment options.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about AC joint injuries.

Can you fully recover from AC joint injury?

Many people with minor AC joint injuries make a full recovery. The chances of making a full recovery depend on the severity of your injury.

Do AC joint ligaments grow back?

Minor ligament injuries can heal by themselves without surgery. Serious injuries usually need surgical repair. AC ligaments lose their potential to heal about 3 weeks after injury.

Is AC joint surgery painful?

AC joint surgery shouldn’t be painful since you’ll receive anesthesia, but you’ll likely experience discomfort afterward.

Your doctor will prescribe pain medications to help you manage your pain in the days after the procedure. Regular use of an ice cooling machine or ice pack, whichever is prescribed, provides additional comfort. Finally, you’ll need to wear a shoulder sling continuously until you’ve been advised to stop.

AC joint surgery treats injuries to the AC joint between your shoulder blade and collarbone. Surgery is usually only necessary for severe injuries.

There are many types of surgery, and the best type for you depends on factors like the type and severity of your injury. Many people can return to sports after their operation.