The shoulder is the body’s most movable joint. However, its mobility and increased range of motion make it extremely susceptible to dislocations.
The shoulder can dislocate partially, known as a subluxation. This is when the head of the upper arm bone, or the humerus, only separates partially from its socket, the glenoid. A complete dislocation means the bone is all the way out of the socket. Both these types of dislocations cause pain and instability in the shoulder.
Shoulder Dislocation Anatomy
The shoulder joint is comprised of the upper arm bone, also known as the humerus, and a socket in the scapula known as the glenoid. The ball of the humerus, or the humeral head, sits inside this socket, and when you move your arm, the ball rotates inside the socket, awarding you a full range of motion.
A shoulder dislocation occurs when the humeral head separates from the socket. The shoulder can dislocate forward, backward, or downward. The most common type of shoulder dislocation is when the shoulder slips forward. This is known as anterior instability, meaning the bone moved forward and out of the socket. This can happen when the arm is put in a throwing position.
Shoulder Dislocation Causes
The most common causes of shoulder dislocations are:
- Sports injuries
- Falling on the shoulder or on the outstretched arm
- Car accidents
- Seizures and electric shocks, which cause muscle contractions that can be powerful enough to pull the shoulder out of place.
Shoulder dislocations are slightly more common in young men than in young women, especially young men who are involved in contact sports like football or rugby. Older adults are also at greater risk for shoulder dislocation than younger adults since they are more likely to suffer falls.
Shoulder Dislocation Symptoms
Common symptoms associated with shoulder dislocation include:
- Numbness in the shoulder area
- Weakness in the arm or shoulder
- Deformities, or “bumps” in the shoulder
- Painful muscle spasms in the shoulder
Symptoms vary depending on the severity of the dislocation. Tendons and ligaments might also be injured when the bone separates from its socket, causing greater degrees of pain and more serious symptoms.
Shoulder Dislocation Diagnosis
The easiest way for your doctor to diagnose a shoulder dislocation is to discuss your symptoms and medical history. If your shoulder has been dislocated before, you are at greater risk for repeated shoulder dislocations.
Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam of the shoulder and may order an X-ray to completely assess the positioning of the humerus. A CT scan or MRI may also be necessary to assess any damage to the soft tissues like ligaments or tendons surrounding the shoulder joint.
Shoulder Dislocation Treatment
The best treatment for a dislocated shoulder is to push it back into place. This is called a closed reduction. Severe pain will likely cease immediately once the shoulder is back into place.
Depending on your pain level and the recommendation of your doctor, you may need to wear a sling for a few days after the closed reduction to stabilize the arm while it heals.
Plenty of rest will also be necessary. The soreness can be managed with ice packs applied 3 to 4 times a day.
If your shoulder dislocations become particularly frequent, sometimes a brace can help hold the shoulder in place. If physical therapy and bracing fail to prevent further shoulder dislocations, surgery may be necessary to re-tighten the tendons and ligaments that hold the shoulder in place, particularly in athletes who want to return to their sport.
More serious treatments like surgery are usually only necessary after repeated dislocations cause chronic shoulder instability. Physical therapy will be highly essential after any surgical or non-surgical treatment, to help give your shoulder strength and stability it needs.
Shoulder Dislocation Recovery
Once your swelling has gone down and the pain is bearable, your doctor will likely prescribe rehabilitation exercises for you to restore range of motion and strength to the shoulder and arm. If the muscles, tendons, and ligaments are strengthened, this can even prevent further dislocations.
Participating fully in physical therapy and following your treatment plan is crucial to returning to your sport, or other typical daily activities, with full strength and range of motion.
At SPORT, we will identify the source of your pain and then utilize state-of-the-art therapeutic techniques that focus on restoring your range of motion.
Depending on the specific condition and its severity, these treatment options may include physical therapy, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, slings and supports, cortisone shots, or shoulder or elbow surgery.
If you have an acute or chronic shoulder or elbow injury that needs medical attention, call SPORT at (469) 200-28322 to arrange a consultation or you can request one online. Hurt today? We can arrange a same-day urgent care visit to ensure you get fast, effective relief.