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Sternoclavicular Joint Injuries

SC Joint Injury Overview

The sternoclavicular (SC) joint is located between the collarbone (clavicle) and the breastbone (sternum). The surrounding ligaments and joint capsule create strength and stability for the joint. A SC joint injury is typically caused by a direct blow or other blunt force trauma to the collarbone. Some patients experience SC joint degeneration from arthritis and similar conditions. An SC joint injury is relatively uncommon since the surrounding ligaments and cartilage are very strong, and the injury can produce severe sternoclavicular joint pain. Shoulder specialist Dr. Brian Waterman and his orthopedic team are well trained in treating these shoulder injuries.

The SC joint supports the shoulders and is the primary attachment to the upper torso’s main skeleton. An SC joint injury is typically associated with a stretched or torn supporting ligament, leading to joint disruption. An injury to the SC joint and its surrounding ligaments can be extremely severe in rare cases. Injuries range from a mild strain to a complete dislocation. An SC joint injury is graded into three types with a mild strain graded as a first grade injury and a complete dislocation graded as a third grade injury. A second grade injury occurs when a portion of the collarbone becomes partially dislocated.

SC Joint Injury Symptoms

The most common SC joint injury symptom is sternoclavicular joint pain. This pain is typically a dull, chronic pain in the collarbone area and is accompanied by stiffness and a feeling of shoulder instability. Other common symptoms include:

  • Bruising in the affected area
  • Cracking or popping sounds
  • Difficulty swallowing and breathing due to the displacement of the medial clavicle

SC Joint Injury Diagnosis

Dr. Waterman will perform a thorough physical examination by moving the joint and looking for visible signs of disfiguration to determine the cause of sternoclavicular joint pain. He will also order an MRI and X-ray to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other underlying shoulder conditions.
Sternoclavicular Joint Pain Treatment

Once a diagnosis has been reached, Dr. Waterman will discuss his recommended course of treatment with the patient.


In most SC joint injuries, a non-surgical approach will alleviate the sternoclavicular joint pain. Dr. Waterman will prescribe an initial treatment of ice, sling immobilization and anti-inflammatory medications to reduce inflammation. Physical therapy may also be recommended depending on the severity of the injury. A more severe SC joint injury may require manipulation by Dr.Waterman to relocate the joint back to its normal position.


Severe dislocations and cases associated with trouble breathing and swallowing may need a surgical approach. SC joint surgery involves opening the joint to identify the extent of the injury. From there, the joint is placed back into the proper position and the damaged ligaments are repaired. Surgery may also be considered in patients experiencing SC joint degeneration from arthritis or other similar degenerative shoulder conditions.

At a Glance

Dr. Brian Waterman, MD

  • Chief & Fellowship Director, Sports Medicine, Wake Forest
  • Team Physician, Wake Forest University, Chicago White Sox
  • Military affiliation/Decorated military officer and surgeon
  • Learn more

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