While the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, its range of motion makes it easier to dislocate.

There are multiple kinds of dislocations. A partial dislocation (subluxation) is when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) is not completely out of the socket (glenoid). A complete dislocation is when the humerus is all the way out of the socket. Both conditions can be painful and cause instability in the shoulder.


  • Shoulder pain that can radiate down the arm

  • Swelling

  • Arm weakness

  • Bruising around the shoulder

In some cases, ligaments or tendons in the shoulder can be torn and nerves can be damaged.

The shoulder can dislocate forward, backward, or even downward. A common dislocation happens when the shoulder slips (anterior instability). This happens when the humerus moves out of the joint forward and down at the same time. This can occur from a throwing motion.


Typically, an X-ray can reveal the position of the dislocation.  In some cases, an MRI may be needed to determine if there is damage to the surrounding tissue.


If you suffer a shoulder dislocation, your doctor will have to place the humerus back into the joint socket in what is known as a “closed reduction.” The pain stops almost immediately when the shoulder joint is put back into place.

Once the joint is put back in place, ice should be used 3-4 times a day. The shoulder should be immobilized in a sling for several weeks. When the pain and swelling begin to go away, rehab exercises will help restore the shoulder’s range of motion and muscle strength. If the condition becomes chronic, a brace sometimes helps. Otherwise, your physician may be recommend surgery to repair and tighten the torn or stretched ligaments that help hold the joint in its place.