Shoulder Dislocation & Instability

The shoulder joint is the body’s most mobile joint. It can turn in many directions. But, this advantage also leads to common shoulder dislocation, the most common dislocated joint.

shoulder dislocation

A partial shoulder dislocation (subluxation) means the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) is partially out of the socket (glenoid). A complete shoulder dislocation means it is all the way out of the socket. Both partial and complete dislocation cause pain and unsteadiness in the shoulder.

Symptoms of Shoulder Dislocation

With a dislocated shoulder, there is severe pain in the front of the shoulder and you are unable to move the arm above the head. There is also an obvious deformity in the front of the shoulder. Sometimes dislocation may tear ligaments or tendons in the shoulder or damage nerves. Once the ligaments, tendons, and muscles around the shoulder become loose or torn, dislocations can occur repeatedly.

The shoulder joint can dislocate forward, backward, or downward. The most common type of shoulder dislocation is when the shoulder slips forward (anterior instability). This means the upper arm bone moved forward and down out of its joint. It may happen when the arm is put in a throwing position.

Diagnosis of Shoulder Dislocation

The diagnosis is usually obvious from clinical examination. The doctor will examine the shoulder and may order an X-ray. It is important that the doctor know how the dislocation happened and whether the shoulder had ever been dislocated before.

Initial Treatment for Shoulder Dislocation

The doctor will place the ball of the upper arm bone (humerus) back into the joint socket. This process is called closed reduction and is usually done with some painkillers and sedation given. Severe pain stops almost immediately once the shoulder joint is back in place.

Rehabilitation for Shoulder Dislocation

Your doctor may immobilize the shoulder in a sling or other device for several weeks following treatment. Plenty of rest is needed. The sore area can be iced 3 to 4 times a day.

After the pain and swelling go down, the doctor will prescribe rehabilitation exercises for you. These help restore the shoulder’s range of motion and strengthen the muscles. Rehabilitation may also help prevent dislocating the shoulder again in the future. Rehabilitation will begin with gentle muscle toning exercises. Later, weight training can be added.

If shoulder dislocation becomes a chronic condition, a brace can sometimes help. However, if therapy and bracing fail, surgery may be needed to repair or tighten the torn or stretched ligaments that help hold the joint in place, particularly in young athletes.

When chronic shoulder instability occurs as a result of repeated dislocations, surgery may be needed. It is important to make a complete recovery for your shoulder dislocation before it becomes a chronic condition.

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