What is Dislocated Shoulder?
A dislocated shoulder is an injury in which your upper arm bone pops out of the cup-shaped socket that’s part of your shoulder blade. The shoulder is the body’s most mobile joint, which makes it susceptible to dislocation.
If you suspect a dislocated shoulder, seek prompt medical attention. Most people regain full shoulder function within a few weeks. However, once you’ve had a dislocated shoulder, your joint may become unstable and be prone to repeat dislocations.
What are the Symptoms for Dislocated Shoulder?
Dislocated shoulder signs and symptoms may include:
- A visibly deformed or out-of-place shoulder
- Swelling or bruising
- Intense pain
- Inability to move the joint
Shoulder dislocation may also cause numbness, weakness or tingling near the injury, such as in your neck or down your arm. The muscles in your shoulder may spasm from the disruption, often increasing the intensity of your pain.
When to see a doctor
Get medical help right away for a shoulder that appears dislocated.
While you’re waiting for medical attention:
- Don’t move the joint. Splint or sling the shoulder joint in its current position. Don’t try to move the shoulder or force it back into place. This can damage the shoulder joint and its surrounding muscles, ligaments, nerves or blood vessels.
- Ice the injured joint. Applying ice to your shoulder can help reduce pain and swelling by controlling internal bleeding and the buildup of fluids in and around your shoulder joint.
What are the Causes for Shoulder Instability / Dislocation?
The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated joint of the body. Because it moves in several directions, your shoulder can dislocate forward, backward or downward, completely or partially, though most dislocations occur through the front of the shoulder. In addition, fibrous tissue that joins the bones of your shoulder can be stretched or torn, often complicating the dislocation.
It takes a strong force, such as a sudden blow to your shoulder, to pull the bones out of place. Extreme rotation of your shoulder joint can pop the ball of your upper arm bone out of your shoulder socket. Partial dislocation in which your upper arm bone is partially in and partially out of your shoulder socket also may occur.
- Sports injuries. Shoulder dislocation is a common injury in contact sports, such as football and hockey, and in sports that may involve falls, such as downhill skiing, gymnastics and volleyball.
- Trauma not related to sports. A hard blow to your shoulder during a motor vehicle accident is a common source of dislocation.
- Falls. You may dislocate your shoulder during a fall, such as from a ladder or from tripping on a loose rug.
What are the Tests and diagnosis for Shoulder Instability / Dislocation?
During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect the affected area for tenderness, swelling or deformity. An X-ray of your shoulder joint will show the dislocation and may reveal broken bones or other damage to your shoulder joint.
What are the Treatments for Shoulder Instability / Dislocation?
Dislocated shoulder treatment may involve:
- Closed reduction. Your doctor may try some gentle maneuvers to help your shoulder bones back into their proper positions. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling, you may need a muscle relaxant or sedative or, rarely, a general anesthetic before manipulation of your shoulder bones. When your shoulder bones are back in place, severe pain should improve almost immediately.
- Surgery. You may need surgery if you have a weak shoulder joint or ligaments and tend to have recurring shoulder dislocations despite proper strengthening and rehabilitation. In rare cases, you may need surgery if your nerves or blood vessels are damaged.
- Immobilization. Your doctor may use a special splint or sling for a few days to three weeks to keep your shoulder from moving. How long you wear the splint or sling depends on the nature of your shoulder dislocation and how soon the splint is applied after your dislocation.
- Medication. Your doctor might prescribe a pain reliever or a muscle relaxant to keep you comfortable while your shoulder heals.
- Rehabilitation. After your shoulder splint or sling is removed, you’ll begin a gradual rehabilitation program designed to restore range of motion, strength and stability to your shoulder joint.
If you have a fairly simple shoulder dislocation without major nerve or tissue damage, your shoulder joint likely will improve over a few weeks, but you’ll be at increased risk for future dislocation. Resuming activity too soon after shoulder dislocation may cause you to injure your shoulder joint or to dislocate it again.
What are the Prevention for Shoulder Instability / Dislocation?
To help prevent a dislocated shoulder:
- Take care to avoid falls
- Wear protective gear when you play contact sports
- Exercise regularly to maintain strength and flexibility in your joints and muscles
Once you’ve dislocated your shoulder joint, you may be more susceptible to future shoulder dislocations. To avoid a recurrence, follow the specific strength and stability exercises that you and your doctor have discussed for your injury.