Shoulder Dislocation

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

There are multiple kinds of dislocations. One is called a partial dislocation (subluxation) which 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 can be painful and cause instability in the shoulder.

Dislocated Shoulder
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Shoulder dislocation symptoms

  • 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 which can occur from a throwing motion.

Diagnosis of shoulder dislocation

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.

Shoulder dislocation treatment

The 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 and the shoulder should be immobilized in a sling for several weeks. When the pain and swelling begin to go away, rehab exercises can help restore the shoulder’s range in motion and to regain muscle strength. If the condition becomes chronic, a brace can sometimes help, or surgery may be recommended to repair and tighten the torn or stretched ligaments that help hold the joint in its place.