Shoulder Dislocation

A shoulder dislocation occurs when your upper arm bone has moved out of your shoulder joint. This is the most frequent type of dislocation and is usually caused by a heavy, blunt force to the top, back or front of the shoulder or upper arm.

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Understanding Shoulder Dislocation

What is a shoulder dislocation?

If you have dislocated your shoulder, your upper arm bone (humerus) has moved out of your shoulder joint. This is the most frequently dislocated major joint of your body. Dislocation is often caused by a significant force that separates your shoulder joint's ball (the top rounded portion of your upper arm bone) from your joint's socket (glenoid).

What causes a shoulder dislocation?

Your shoulder can dislocate in several ways, including:

  • Forward and downward dislocation (anterior dislocation). These are the most common types of dislocations. They often result from falling on your outstretched hand or on your shoulder itself.

  • Backward dislocation (posterior dislocation). This type of dislocation may be caused by a direct blow to the front of your shoulder, or the violent twisting of your upper arm.

Your shoulder can be either partly or fully dislocated. Partial dislocation is when the head of your upper arm is partly out of your shoulder socket. Complete dislocation is when the head of your upper arm is completely out of your shoulder socket.

What are the symptoms of a shoulder dislocation?

Symptoms may be a bit different for each person. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in your upper arm and shoulder, which is often worse when you try to move them.

  • Swelling.

  • Numbness and weakness.

  • Bruising.

  • Deformity of your shoulder.

The symptoms of a dislocated shoulder may seem like other conditions or health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a shoulder dislocation diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will take a full health history and give you a physical exam. Diagnostic tests often include an X-ray.

How is a shoulder dislocation treated?

Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Moving the head of your upper arm bone back into your shoulder joint (reduction), often with an anesthetic.

  • Immobilizing your shoulder with a sling after reduction.

  • Rehabilitation.

  • Surgery, if nonsurgical methods don't restore stability.

What can I do to prevent a shoulder dislocation?

Keeping muscle strength and flexibility can help prevent shoulder dislocations.  Once your shoulder is dislocated, physical therapy may help prevent you from dislocating it in the future. By restoring your shoulder’s range of motion and physical strength, your risk for dislocation decreases.

How is a shoulder dislocation managed?

Once your shoulder has been placed back into the socket joint, your healthcare provider may advise you to keep your shoulder immobilized. This is done by using a sling or other device for a few weeks after treatment. Resting and applying ice to the affected area several times a day will help reduce your pain and swelling.

After your pain and swelling go away, you may need to do some rehab exercises to help restore your shoulder’s range of motion and strengthen your muscles.

When should I call my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms:

  • Severe pain in your shoulder when you try to move your arm.

  • Swelling, pain, or both that gets worse in your shoulder, arm or hand.

  • Your arm or hand turns purple or pale.

  • You have a fever or chills.

Shoulder dislocation can damage blood vessels and nerves that feed the arm and hand. Seeking medical care right away can improve the outcome.

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