Pain in the SC joint / sternoclavicular luxation
The sternoclavicular joint (SC joint) is located along the front of the chest-neck region. The joint connects the collarbone (clavicle) to the breastbone (sternum). The symptoms usually occur as the result of an accident or fall.
Injury to the sternoclavicular joint is less common than acromioclavicular injury, which is located more to the outside and on top of the shoulder.
Description of condition
In the case of sternoclavicular luxation, there is a dislocation of the collarbone (the clavicle) relative to the breastbone (the sternum). This causes damage to the structures that hold the joint together. These are primarily capsules and ligaments. Sometimes the disc that is (almost always) located in the joint may also become damaged.
Dislocation does not always occur. Various underlying processes can result in pain in the sternoclavicular joint. For example, capsulitis (inflammation of the joint capsule) or arthritis (inflammation of the joint). This is seen primarily in middle-aged women.
Cause and history
Generally, dislocation will occur as the result of a direct or indirect force acting on the shoulder. For example, an accident or fall. Sometimes the patient cannot remember a specific accident or fall and the symptoms develop gradually.
Signs & symptoms
- Pain along the front of the chest, just below the base of the neck.
- Various fully extended movements can make the symptoms worse.
- Stretching the shoulders or moving the upper arm toward the chest (horizontal adduction) is often painful.
- Pressure on the sternoclavicular joint is painful.
- Localized swelling may occur.
- If dislocation occurs, there may be visible abnormalities in the joint.
- Some patients will complain of shortness of breath, pins and needles, or difficulty swallowing.
Patients may visit a doctor or physiotherapist at either an acute or chronic stage. In order to find out what the problem is, the patient needs to be asked what the symptoms are and how they occurred. A physical examination will reveal any limitations.
An X-ray can show whether there is damage to the joint. However, an X-ray is usually not sufficient in case of a dislocation. A CT-scan will give a better image. An ultrasound could show up any capsulitis or arthritis.
The treatment and the corresponding recovery depend on the nature and severity of the injury. In case of an acute luxation, the collarbone will be put back in place and a Mitella/sling should be worn for a few weeks after that.
If it is not possible to re-position the joint, surgery will be performed. Afterwards, it may be necessary to regain mobility of the shoulder girdle using physiotherapy.
In case of chronic or recurring luxations, initially an attempt is made to reduce the symptoms with rest, physiotherapy and, if necessary, painkillers. If the symptoms persist, surgery may also be performed to fix the joint.
In the case of a sprain, capsulitis or arthritis of the joint, a period of rest will usually be sufficient.
You can check your symptoms using the online physiotherapy check or make an appointment with a physiotherapy practice in your locality.
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