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AC Joint Surgery Risks

As with any surgery, there are potential risks involved in acromioclavicular (AC) joint surgery. AC joint surgery, however, is one of the safest surgeries performed in orthopedics. The decision to proceed with the surgery is made because the advantages of surgery outweigh the potential disadvantages.

It is important that you are informed of these risks before the surgery takes place.

Complications can be medical (general) or surgical complications specific to the shoulder.

Medical complications

Medical complications include those of the anesthetic and your general well being. Almost any medical condition can occur so this list is not complete. Complications include:

  • Allergic reactions to medications

  • Complications from nerve blocks such as infection or nerve damage

Surgical complications


Infection can occur with any operation. If it occurs, it can be treated with antibiotics but may require further surgery. The Hospital for Special Surgery has the lowest infection rate in the region.

Blood Clots (Deep Venous Thrombosis)

These can form in the calf muscles and can travel to the lung (Pulmonary embolism). These can occasionally be serious and even life threatening. If you get calf pain or shortness of breath at any stage, you should notify Dr. Pearle, your medical doctor, or go directly to the Emergency Room.

Stiffness in the Shoulder

Ideally, your shoulder should have full range of motion but motion loss can occur. Occasionally, further surgery or a manipulation under anesthesia is needed to remove the scar tissue.

Rotator cuff tear

AC joint surgery helps prevent rotator cuff tear but does not completely eliminate the risk of subsequent tear.

Wound Irritation or Breakdown

The operation will always cut some skin nerves, so you will inevitably have some numbness around the wound. This does not affect the function of your joint. You can also get some aching around the scar. Vitamin E cream and massaging can help reduce this.

Occasionally, you can get reactions to the sutures or a wound breakdown that may require antibiotics or rarely, further surgery.

Recurrent pain in the AC joint

Occasionally further surgery is necessary to clean out the AC joint.


Surgery is not a pleasant prospect for anyone, but for some people with shoulder pain, it could mean the difference between leading a normal life or putting up with a debilitating condition. Surgery can be regarded as part of your treatment plan-it may help to restore function to your damaged joints as well as relieve pain.

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