Why Does It Feel Like My Shoulder “Pops Out”?

The shoulder is not only the most flexible joint in the body, but it’s the most frequently dislocated as well.

Since we use our arms so much for lifting, stretching, driving, and even simply walking, an injured shoulder can be both painful and frustrating.

When it feels like the shoulder has popped out, it’s best to seek the help of a professional.

Call one of our OrthoNeuro offices in Columbus, Ohio today or book an appointment online to begin your rehabilitation with a skilled orthopedic shoulder specialist.

Shoulder Popped Out and Back In

A severe bump to the area or having your arm pulled outwards sharply can lead to a dislocated shoulder.

It’s a common injury in contact sports, particularly football.

However, even falling onto an outstretched hand can be enough for the joint to pop out of the socket.

Occasionally, an accident or injury can mean the shoulder pops out but then immediately goes back in again.

At other times, the joint dislocates to the extent that it needs to be put back in by a doctor.

Still, other injuries can include subluxations, or partial dislocations, leading to chronic shoulder instability.

Again, those prone to sports injuries are likely to suffer from repetitive shoulder subluxation or labral tear issues, which occur when the joint tissue becomes injured.

Diagnosing a Shoulder Dislocation

The shoulder joint comprises the area where several body parts meet: the humerus (the upper arm bone), the scapula (shoulder blade), and the clavicle, along with a massive network of muscles, tendons, and blood vessels.

This means that not all injuries to the shoulder necessarily involve a dislocation.

A doctor can conduct a series of tests and examine your range of motion to determine whether you have rotator cuff tears or there has indeed been a dislocation. 

An x-ray will also help in diagnosing dislocations.

However, if there appears to be no joint dislocation, further tests and scans can uncover other issues.

These can include labral tears, rotator cuff tears, damage to the ligaments, or torn upper arm muscles.

Anterior and Posterior Shoulder Dislocations

The most frequently occurring dislocation is an anterior dislocation, when the shoulder is forced forwards and downwards, pushing the humerus ball (arm bone) out of the socket.

When this happens, it can cause tears to the cartilaginous fibers of the joint. These are known as Bankart lesions.

The less common type of dislocation is the posterior shoulder dislocation, which occurs when the joint pops out to the back rather than being pushed forwards.

These injuries are more commonly seen in severe cases of trauma or when someone has a seizure and falls very quickly onto their front.

How a Dislocated Shoulder Can Be Treated

Once a doctor has examined your shoulder socket and determined which shoulder dislocation has occurred, treatment will begin accordingly.

Much of the recommendation will depend on the severity of the dislocation.

The initial treatment may involve popping the dislocated shoulder back into place.

In cases of subluxation, or partial dislocation, the shoulder should gently be moved back into the correct position.

Afterward, the injury has to be given time to heal, as the shoulder muscles can be weak.

The arm should be put into a sling for at least the first few days to give the swelling of the area a chance to subside.

When your shoulder dislocates, you may experience intense pain. Thus, your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain.

This will usually aid in reducing any swelling at the same time.

Will My Dislocated Shoulder Require Surgery?

There may be a need for surgery in more severe cases.

An orthopedic surgeon will be able to determine the extent of damage to the muscles, tendons, and even the surrounding blood vessels that carry oxygen to the area.

Surgery isn’t often necessary for a dislocated shoulder, but it can be vital for preventing further injury.

Once the site has healed after your surgery, the recovery process can begin.

The Importance of Physical Therapy

While the pain of a dislocation can mean a patient has no desire to move their arm, it’s crucial that exercises begin once the immediate pain and swelling have reduced.

A physical therapist will be able to recommend the right kind of movements to perform.

These will be small at first and will gradually progress as your ability to cope with further strengthening exercises continues to improve as the injury heals.

Can I Ignore My Shoulder’s Dislocations?

Even if your shoulder has popped out and gone back in again and there is no more pain, it should still be checked out.

Injuries involving the shoulder and surrounding muscles should receive the proper care and attention so they can be treated early.

Leaving a dislocation alone without getting it checked, even if the joint has popped back in again, could result in further issues, including inflammation and impeded range of motion.

Resuming Sports After Dislocating a Shoulder Joint

Professional athletes will need around 6-8 weeks of recovery after dislocating a shoulder before returning to the game.

Without a full recovery, there is a high risk of the joint popping out again after an initial dislocation.

If surgery is needed, it can take up to six months of healing and therapy before being given the green light to return to regular sports or other physical activity.

This is to ensure that all muscles and tendons are fully recovered.

It is always the best practice to get a professional’s opinion when determining how to deal with and treat your shoulder injury.

Our trained orthopedic specialists at OrthoNeuro are ready to help you with your recovery.

Call one of our offices in Columbus, Ohio, or schedule your visit online to get back to your regular activities as soon as possible.


This article was originally written by B. Rodney Comisar, MD. 

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