Shoulder dislocation

What is it and how is it treated?

Your shoulder is the most mobile joint in your body. You can reach for objects above your head as well as around your body to scratch your back. 

The extraordinary mobility of this complex ball-and-socket comes with a price — it increases your risk of injuries such as shoulder dislocation. The shoulder is the most prevalent type of joint dislocation, comprising 50% of all major joint dislocations.

About the shoulder joint

Three bones come together to form your shoulder joint: the upper arm bone (humerus), shoulder blade (scapula), and the collarbone (clavicle). 

The ball at the top of your humerus fits into the glenoid, a shallow socket in the scapula. The rotator cuff, a group of muscles and tendons, holds the joint together, providing stability, and supporting the wide range of motion.

About a dislocated shoulder

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the shoulder joint’s ball slips out of the shoulder socket. You can have a partial dislocation or complete dislocation, depending on if your upper arm bone slips partially out of place or if the bone moves all the way out of the shoulder socket.

Your shoulder can dislocate in multiple directions — forward, backward, or downward.

Anterior dislocation

An anterior dislocation is the clinical term for a forward dislocation. Up to 97% of shoulder dislocations are anterior.

Posterior dislocation

Posterior shoulder dislocations comprise 2-4% of these injuries. Posterior dislocation is a backward dislocation.

Inferior dislocations

Inferior dislocations are the least common type of these shoulder injuries. Less than 1% of shoulder dislocations occur when your arm bone moves downward and out of the glenoid.

What causes shoulder dislocation?

Traumatic injuries are the most common types of shoulder dislocation. For example, falling on an outstretched arm, direct blows to your shoulder or outstretched arm, violent twisting, or a force pushing your shoulder beyond its normal range of motion can cause dislocation.

Participating in sports increases your risk of shoulder dislocation. Your chances of sustaining a traumatic sports injury are higher and repetitive movements can damage your rotator cuff and cause instability in your shoulder.

What are the symptoms of a dislocated shoulder?

The most common symptoms of a dislocated shoulder include:

  • Severe pain
  • Popping sound or sensation
  • Visible deformity
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Inability to move your shoulder joint
  • Shoulder instability
  • Numbness or tingling sensations in your arm

A shoulder dislocation can also tear ligaments and tendons in your shoulder or cause nerve damage. You could also experience muscle spasms in the shoulder, increasing the intensity of your pain.

What should I do if I think my shoulder is dislocated?

You should contact OrthoNeuro and make an appointment to see one of our orthopedic shoulder surgeons right away to have your shoulder dislocation treated. 

Keep your shoulder immobilized, and if possible, use a sling or splint to keep it in its current position. Under no circumstances should you try to force your shoulder back into place. 

You can apply ice to your shoulder to reduce swelling, pain, and the buildup of fluids in your shoulder joint.

How is a shoulder dislocation diagnosed?

Your orthopedic shoulder specialist at OrthoNeuro provides thorough exams to diagnose dislocated shoulders. After reviewing your medical history, your symptoms, and the details of your injury, your doctor manipulates your arm to gather more information about your injury.

Your doctor usually lifts your arm to the front or side and gently rotates your arm in both directions. How your arm can or can’t move helps your orthopedist determine the type of dislocation.

When necessary, your physician may order an X-ray to see your shoulder joint in more detail and identify any related bone fractures.

How do you fix a dislocated shoulder?

Following your assessment, your doctor creates a treatment plan for your shoulder dislocation. They provide medication to help you stay comfortable before applying some gentle maneuvers to guide your shoulder bones back into the correct positions.

Your orthopedic surgeon provides a sling or a splint to immobilize the shoulder joint while you rest and recover. You can use ice paces to manage swelling, bruising, and pain. As your shoulder pain and other symptoms subside, you begin physical therapy to rehabilitate your shoulder.

If your shoulder dislocation is more severe or has caused nerve or blood vessel damage, you may need shoulder surgery to repair a weak shoulder.

Your orthopedic surgeon may prescribe medication to relieve any shoulder pain and keep you comfortable while your shoulder heals.

How long does it take to recover from a dislocated shoulder?

A simple shoulder dislocation without complications such as nerve or tissue damage can heal in a few weeks. 

If your injury is more severe or required shoulder surgery, you will likely need more time to heal. It’s critical to follow your orthopedic shoulder expert’s advice and instructions and do your rehabilitation exercises as directed.

Don’t return to your regular activities until your doctor says it is safe to do so. A shoulder dislocation increases your risk of future dislocations, and returning to your everyday activities too quickly can lead to another injury or dislocation.

Can a dislocated shoulder heal itself?

A shoulder specialist should examine your shoulder and reposition the upper arm bone into the shoulder socket. However, if your injury is mild, you may be able to rest at home while your shoulder heals and not require any other treatments.

Call OrthoNeuro in Columbus, Ohio, today or make an appointment online if you have shoulder pain or think you have a dislocated shoulder.

Make an Appointment with an OrthoNeuro Specialist Today! 

  • If you have been experiencing chronic shoulder pain, schedule an appointment with one of our Board Certified Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Specialists at one of our 7 convenient locations throughout Greater Columbus. 
  • We will evaluate your unique lifestyle and goals to determine which type of treatment is best for you.

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Meet Our Shoulder Specialists

Scott P. Stephens, MD

Orthopedic Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

B. Rodney Comisar, MD, FAAOS

Orthopedic Surgeon

Benjamin W. Szerlip, DO

Orthopedic Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon

Michael B. Cannone, DO

Orthopedic Surgeon

Timothy P. Duffey, DO

Orthopedist

Jeremy R. Mathis, DO

Orthopedic Surgeon

Keith A. LaDu, DO

Orthopedic Surgeon

J. Mark Hatheway, MD

Orthopedic Surgeon

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