AC Joint Sprain Exercises & Rehabilitation

AC joint sprain exercises

Rehabilitation exercises for an AC joint sprain or separation will depend on the severity of the injury. Exercises should begin only when the ligaments have healed, and you have no pain during normal daily activities.


The following guidelines are for information purposes. We recommend seeking professional advice.

First aid for AC joint separation injuries

Initially, complete rest, immobilization and regular application of ice or cold therapy are important to reduce pain and inflammation.

When can I start AC joint sprain exercises?

Mobility exercises can begin only once shoulder movement is pain-free. This will normally be 7-14 days for grades 1 and 2 sprains.

Grade 3 injuries are more frequently treated conservatively, without surgery, but will require an even longer rest/healing period.

Scapular rhythm

Exercises to restore the scapular rhythm are also important. The shoulder blade and upper arm bone should move together with the correct timing. In the injured athlete this rhythm is often lost.

AC joint sprain mobility and stretching exercises

If the shoulder has been immobilized for a period of time then it may have lost mobility or range of motion. Perform shoulder stretching exercises at least once a day, but only if you can do them pain free during and after. Also, make sure you do not have pain the following day from stretching. If you do then rest and let your shoulder heal.

Pendulum exercises

Pendulum exercises can begin as soon as the ligament has healed and pain allows.

Teaching point:

  • Gently swing the arm forwards, backward, and sideways whilst lying on your front or bent over as seen opposite
  • Gradually increase the range of motion
  • Repeat this with your arm swinging from side to side as well
  • Aim to reach 90 degrees of motion in any direction

Front shoulder stretch

front shoulder stretch

Teaching point:

  • Place one forearm on a fixed point such as a doorframe or corner of a wall and gently turn away from it to stretch the front of the shoulder
  • Hold the position for 10 to 20 seconds and repeat 3 times
  • You should feel a gentle stretch in the front of the shoulder but no pain
external rotation shoulder stretch

External rotation stretch

Teaching point:

  • Lie on your back with the upper arm at 90 degrees to your body, and the elbow bent so your hand points to the ceiling
  • A partner or therapist rotates your arm at the shoulder so that the palm of the hand faces up
  • Hold the position for 20-30 seconds, rest, and repeat 3-5 times

AC joint sprain strengthening

Strengthening the muscles surrounding and supporting your shoulder can also begin as soon as pain allows. If it is painful to do the exercises then rest a bit longer.

Isometric exercises

Strengthening should initially be isometric. This means contracting the muscles without movement.

An excellent piece of equipment to use to strengthen the shoulder is a resistance band. When using resistance bands start using a long length, if it is too easy you can shorten the band or double it up to provide more resistance.

Internal Rotation

Teaching point:

  • With the same starting position, pull your hand in, towards your stomach, again keeping the elbow by your side
  • Note you will have to turn yourself around to apply resistance to the exercise so that you are pulling the band from your side, across your body

External rotation

  • Attach the band to something stable, holding one end, with the upper arm fixed against the body and the elbow bent
  • Pull the band so that the hand and forearm move away from the body whilst keeping the elbow against your side
  • Or hold the band between the hands with elbows at the sides and work both at the same time pulling the shoulder blades back.
  • Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions with a minute rest between sets

Abduction/lateral raise

Teaching point:

  • Using the resistance band, stand on one end of the band, with the other end in your hand
  • Keeping your elbow straight, pull your hand up to level with your shoulder ensuring you maintain a good posture
  • Again perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions
  • This can be performed just as easily with a small dumbbell
Knee supports

Zinc Ocide Sports Tape (UK) (USA)

Returning to sport

Before returning to any type of sport following an AC joint injury you should have a full pain-free range of motion.

On returning to contact sports, protect your shoulder by taping the joint. Add a circular piece of padding with a hole cut in the middle over the top of your shoulder for extra protection.

This can be kept in place with bandaging or a shoulder support. Stretching, mobility and strength exercises should be continued throughout the return to sports phase.

Scroll to Top