Dislocated Shoulder

The shoulder joint has a larger range of motion than any other bodily joint. Because of this however, it is prone to dislocation. A dislocated shoulder occurs when at the glenohumeral joint the humerus is separated from the scapula. A dislocated shoulder usually causes severe pain in the impacted joint. There may also be swelling and bruising. In some cases, a dislocation may damage nerves or tear tendons or ligaments in the shoulder. The shoulder will usually be visibly out of place or deformed. It should cause serious discomfort and may make it impossible to move the joint at all. The dislocation may also cause tingling or numbness in other parts of the body near the injury, such as down your arm or in your neck.


The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated joint in the body. It can be partially or completely dislocated, and it can dislocate downward, backward, or forward. A sudden blow or a strong force can pull the shoulder bone out of place, resulting in a dislocation. A dislocation that is only partial occurs when the bone in your upper arm bone is partially out of but still partially in your shoulder socket. An extreme shoulder rotation can cause the ball of your upper arm bone to pop out of your shoulder socket, resulting in a dislocation as well. Dislocated shoulders are common in sports, especially contact sports like hockey and football, because of the impact of being tackled or checked. It is also common in sports where you are susceptible to falls, such as volleyball, gymnastics, and downhill skiing. For non-athletes, any hard blow to your shoulder can dislocate it, such as slipping and falling on wet pavement or ice or during a car accident.


A dislocated shoulder needs to be popped back in place immediately. For an athlete, this is usually done by a trainer on the bench or sideline. For a non-athlete or for an athlete who does not have a trainer available to them, the doctor will do it for you. This process is called reduction. Once the shoulder joint is popped back into place, any severe pain should stop immediately. If you are in severe pain and if there is a large amount of swelling, the doctor may give you a sedative or muscle relaxant before manipulating your shoulder bones. If you have a weak shoulder joint or ligaments and have constant shoulder dislocation problems despite proper rehabilitation and strengthening, your doctor may recommend surgery. After the shoulder is popped back into place, you may need a sling or splint to immobilize the shoulder. The severity of the dislocation will determine how long you need to wear the sling or splint.


For athletes, a trainer should be able to pop the dislocated shoulder back into place on the bench or sideline, and the athlete should be able to play the remainder of the game. A severe dislocation may require a sling or splint, however, and the recovery time depends on how severe the dislocation was (typically it should heal within a week or two). To successfully recover, plenty of rest is required, and ice should be administered 3-4 times a day. Rehabilitation exercises should help strengthen the shoulder muscles and restore the joint’s full range of motion. They may also help prevent future dislocations. In the beginning, rehabilitation will help with gentle muscle toning, with weight training coming later. To help prevent a dislocated shoulder, wear proper equipment and protective gear when you play contact sports. You should exercise and stretch regularly to maintain flexibility and strength in your muscles and joints. Take precautions to avoid falls. For more information on dislocated shoulders, visit the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.