Shoulder Dislocation

What is a Shoulder Dislocation?

Shoulder dislocation happens when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) moves out of the shoulder socket. This can happen as a result of a sudden impact injury or from overuse. After a shoulder has dislocated, it can happen again, especially if the muscles, tendons and ligaments which keep it in place are torn or become loose. When a shoulder slips out of place repeatedly, it is called chronic shoulder instability.

Shoulder dislocations can be partial or complete. Partial dislocation (subluxation) involves the ball of the upper arm coming partially out of the socket. In a complete dislocation, the ball comes all the way out of the socket.

What causes Shoulder Dislocation?

Injury from a sudden impact is the most common cause of shoulder dislocation. When the head of the humerus dislocates, the ligaments in the front of the shoulder are often injured and the cartilage around the edge of the bone may also tear. A severe first dislocation can lead to continued dislocations or a feeling of instability.

Repetitive movement can also cause shoulder instability and dislocation. Repeated actions such as those experienced in swimming, volleyball and tennis can cause shoulder instability. Jobs that require regular overhead work such as carpentry or house painting can also stretch out the shoulder ligaments and make them loose.

Shoulder Dislocation Symptoms

Most people who experience a shoulder dislocation report feeling the ball of the shoulder come out of the socket. This is usually painful and connected to a sensation of the shoulder ‘giving way’. Other symptoms include a decreased range of movement in the arm and shoulder, as well as swelling and bruising. Usually, a shoulder dislocation happens during an activity such as throwing a ball or reaching backwards.

Treatment for Shoulder Dislocation

Initial treatment for shoulder dislocation involves a medical professional putting the ball of your upper arm back into the socket. This is often done with pain relief medication. As soon as the ball is back in the socket, the intense pain should end. A sling is often used for a few days to temporarily immobilize the joint. After any pain and swelling has been addressed, physical therapy exercises are introduced.

Surgery for Shoulder Dislocation

If you are experiencing repeat dislocations, surgery may be necessary. The aim of surgery will be to repair torn or stretched ligaments so that they can keep the shoulder joint in place. In some instances, this surgery can be performed via arthroscopy, which is minimally invasive, key-hole surgery. In other instances, traditional, open surgery is required. Our South Coast Orthopaedic surgeon will talk to you about which one is right for you when you attend for your consultation.

After surgery, your shoulder will be immobilized with a sling. You will also be given a range of exercises to strengthen your shoulder as part of your rehabilitation plan.