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Definition

What is shoulder dislocation?

The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of your arm bone (the ball) fits into the groove in your shoulder blade (the socket). Dislocating your shoulder means the ball joint of your upper arm has popped out of the shoulder socket. The shoulder is the body’s most mobile joint, which makes it susceptible to dislocation.

How common is shoulder dislocation?

Shoulder dislocation is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of shoulder dislocation?

The common symptoms of Shoulder Dislocation are:

  • A visibly deformed or out-of-place shoulder;
  • Swelling or bruising;
  • Intense pain;
  • Inability to move the joint
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm, hand, or fingers.

Shoulder dislocation may also cause numbness, weakness or tingling near the injury, such as in your neck or down your arm. The muscles in your shoulder may spasm from the disruption, often increasing the intensity of your pain.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you think you have dislocated your shoulder, seek medical attention immediately.

Causes

What causes shoulder dislocation?

The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated joint of the body. The reason is that it moves in several directions, your shoulder can dislocate forward, backward or downward, completely or partially, though most dislocations occur through the front of the shoulder. In addition, fibrous tissue that joins the bones of your shoulder can be stretched or torn, often complicating the dislocation.

It takes a strong force, such as a sudden blow to your shoulder, to pull the bones out of place. Extreme rotation of your shoulder joint can pop the ball of your upper arm bone out of your shoulder socket. Partial dislocation — in which your upper arm bone is partially in and partially out of your shoulder socket — also may occur.

A dislocated shoulder may be caused by:

  • Sports injuries: Shoulder dislocation is a common injury in contact sports, such as football and hockey, and in sports that may involve falls, such as downhill skiing, gymnastics and volleyball.
  • Trauma not related to sports: A hard blow to your shoulder during a motor vehicle accident is a common source of dislocation.
  • Falls: You may dislocate your shoulder during a fall, such as from a ladder or from tripping on a loose rug.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for shoulder dislocation?

Males in their teens or 20s, a group that tends to be physically active, are at highest risk of shoulder dislocation.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is shoulder dislocation diagnosed?

During the physical exam, your doctor will inspect the affected area for tenderness, swelling or deformity. It is important that the doctor know how the dislocation happened and whether the shoulder had ever been dislocated before. The doctor will examine the shoulder and may order an X-ray. An X-ray of your shoulder joint will show the dislocation and may reveal broken bones or other damage to your shoulder joint.

How is shoulder dislocation treated?

Dislocated shoulder treatment may involve:

  • Closed reduction: Your doctor may try some gentle maneuvers to help your shoulder bones back into their proper positions. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling, you may need a muscle relaxant or sedative or, rarely, a general anesthetic before manipulation of your shoulder bones. When your shoulder bones are back in place, severe pain should improve almost immediately.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery if you have a weak shoulder joint or ligaments and tend to have recurring shoulder dislocations despite proper strengthening and rehabilitation. In rare cases, you may need surgery if your nerves or blood vessels are damaged.
  • Immobilization: Your doctor may use a special splint or sling for a few days to three weeks to keep your shoulder from moving. How long you wear the splint or sling depends on the nature of your shoulder dislocation and how soon the splint is applied after your dislocation.
  • Medication: Your doctor might prescribe a pain reliever or a muscle relaxant to keep you comfortable while your shoulder heals.
  • Rehabilitation: After your shoulder splint or sling is removed, you’ll begin a gradual rehabilitation program designed to restore range of motion, strength and stability to your shoulder joint.

If you have a fairly simple shoulder dislocation without major nerve or tissue damage, your shoulder joint likely will improve over a few weeks, but you’ll be at increased risk for future dislocation. Resuming activity too soon after shoulder dislocation may cause you to injure your shoulder joint or to dislocate it again.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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