The sternoclavicular joint, commonly called the SC joint, is located between the breastbone (sternum) and the collarbone (clavicle). Sternoclavicular joint injuries can occur due to severe trauma or direct blows to the body as seen in motor vehicle accidents or in contact sports, where there is stretching or tearing of the supporting ligaments, and sometimes even fractures or dislocations. The SC joint is also an uncommon site of arthritis as we age.

Anatomy of the Sternoclavicular Joint

The shoulder consists of four joints, one of which is the sternoclavicular joint. It is an important joint as it connects the arm to the central skeleton. Similar to other joints, the SC joint is covered by articular cartilage that helps the bones slide effortlessly against each other during arm and shoulder movement. Tough connective ligaments surround the SC joint providing stability and strength and assisting in the natural motion of the arm.

Symptoms of Sternoclavicular Joint Injury

Signs and symptoms of sternoclavicular joint disorders include:

  • Pain localised to the SC joint region
  • Tenderness, bruising, or swelling over the joint
  • Limited range of motion in the arm
  • Grinding or crunching sound with arm movement

Diagnosis of Sternoclavicular Joint Injury

Your doctor will review your medical history and symptoms and perform a thorough physical examination to assess range of motion of your arm, noting any pain, bruising, swelling, or redness over the joint. 

Your doctor may also recommend imaging tests such as X-rays, MRI, and CT scans for detailed imaging of the various tissue structures. This can help to differentiate a sprain from a fracture or dislocation, and to confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment for Sternoclavicular Joint Injury

Non-surgical treatment includes:

  • Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help reduce pain and swelling in the joint.
  • Targeted injections of local anaesthetic and cortisone
  • Immobilization
  • Closed reduction of a dislocation

Surgical reconstruction is indicated when conservative treatment fails to alleviate symptoms, or if the joint remains unstable or dislocated. If a dislocation injury causes the clavicle to move backward against the vital structures of the chest, urgent medical and surgical care is necessary, as there is a risk of compromise to these structures

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