The Integrity of the Acromioclavicular Capsule Ensures Physiological Centering of the Acromioclavicular Joint Under Rotational Loading

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The acromioclavicular (AC) capsule is an important stabilizer against horizontal translation and also contributes to the strut function of the clavicle, which guides rotation of the scapula. To best reproduce the biomechanical properties and the complex 3-dimensional (3D) guidance of the AC joint, detailed knowledge of the contribution of each of the distinctive capsular structures is needed.


To perform a detailed biomechanical evaluation of the specific capsular structures of the AC joint and their contribution to translational and rotational stability. The hypothesis was that successive cutting of each quadrant of the AC capsule would result in increased instability and increased amplitude of the clavicle’s motion in relation to the acromion.

Study Design:

Controlled laboratory study.


Thirty-two fresh-frozen human cadaveric shoulders were used. Each scapula was fixed to a swivel fixture of a servohydraulic materials testing system. The AC capsule was dissected in serial steps with immediate rotational and horizontal testing after each cut. A 3D optical measuring system was used to evaluate 3D movement. Posterior translation, rotation, and displacement of the lateral clavicle in relation to the center of rotation were measured. Torques and axial forces required to rotate and translate the clavicle were recorded.


When posterior translational force was applied, all specimens with a completely cut AC capsule demonstrated a significant loss of resistance force against the translational motion when compared with the native state (P < .05). The resistance force against posterior translation was reduced to less than 27% of the native state for all specimens. Sequential cutting of the AC capsule resulted in a significant reduction of resistance torque against anterior rotation for all specimens with less than 22% of resistance force compared with the native state. Cutting 50% of the capsule reduced the resistance torque for all segments and all testing modalities (posterior translation as well as anterior and posterior rotation) significantly compared with the native state (P < .05). Cutting the entire AC capsule resulted in a significant increase in motion within the joint as a sign of decentering of the AC joint when torque was applied. All groups demonstrated a significant increase of motion in all directions when the AC capsule was cut by 50%.


Cutting the entire capsule (with intact coracoclavicular [CC] ligaments) reduced the resistance force to less than 25% compared with the native state during translational testing and less than 10% compared with the native state during rotational testing. However, the anterior segments of the capsule provided the greatest stability under rotational loading. Second, the amplitude of the joint’s motion significantly increased under rotational stress, indicating increased amplitude of the clavicle’s motion in relation to the acromion when the ligamentous structures of the AC capsule are dissected.

Clinical Relevance:

To best restore stability to the AC joint, the relevance and function of each section of the circumferential AC capsule need to be understood. Our findings support the synergistic contribution of the CC ligaments and AC capsular structures to AC joint stability. This synergy supports the need to address both structures to achieve anatomic reconstruction.

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