An AC joint sprain is every gym goer’s nightmare.

This injury can prevent doing crucial upper body workouts for many weeks or even months, depending on the severity or grade.

“AC joint sprains typically are a result of trauma or direct impact to the tip of the shoulder, like with a fall,” says Dr. Megan McLain, PT, DPT, cofounder of Intuitive Choice Physical Therapy & Wellness in Atlanta, GA.

“These usually don’t occur due to overuse or are exercise-related, so they aren’t usually considered preventable by strength training.

“General strengthening to the scapula and glenohumeral joint musculature can be helpful, though, in case of injury — because it can make recovery smoother.”

AC Joint Injury Without a Sprain

That area of the body can still suffer from overload in the gym, and make one believe they have a sprain.

Strained muscles in that area can limit movement due to stiffness and intense soreness – that can linger for days.

Overdoing parallel bar dips, for example, can lead to this problem.

However, if there is no sprain, this situation should clear up in a few weeks with rest and gentle seated rows with very light weight to loosen things up.

Exercises to Aid Recovery from an AC Joint Sprain

“Deltoid raises — in theory this exercise will over time increase hypertrophy in the deltoid, which could lead to more cushioning on the AC joint,” says Dr. McLain.

Do three sets with light dumbbells for 8-12 reps each, one minute apart, twice a week.

When bringing the weights down to the starting position (arms before yourself, dumbbells together), use control instead of letting your arms drop.

Deltoid side raise.

“Planks — help work overall shoulder stability to make them more resilient against gravity and body weight,” says Dr. McLain.

Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Do three sets with one minute in between.

Just a few times a week is more than sufficient to get positive effects.


“Side-lying shoulder internal rotation with dumbbell — this helps to strengthen the anterior shoulder musculature and could theoretically help strengthen to prevent injury.” explains Dr. McLain.

Lie on your side, head on a pillow, a light dumbell in the hand of the arm that’s on the floor.

Bring the arm close to your side, elbow bent 90 degrees.

Rotate your arm upwards, internally, against the direction of the dumbbell weight, as far as you can.

Reverse the movement. Do 12 reps for three sets, a minute in between sets, and do not rush through them.

These three exercises can also make an AC joint, that’s not injured, more durable and less vulnerable to the pain and stiffness of an overuse session.

However, doing these exercises doesn’t give you a pass on “killing it” at the dipping station or going berserk with your bench press routine.

Listen to your body. If you begin feeling like things are getting a little hairy in the shoulder joint during your training session, it’s time to back off.

Dr. Megan McLain, PT, DPT, puts her clients first while providing one-on-one in-home care. With physical therapy and health coaching services, Dr. McLain addresses all aspects such as physical barriers, mindset, accountability and knowledge that may be impacting the client’s experience.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health. 


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