Overview

The shoulder joint is the body's most mobile joint. It can turn in many directions. But, this advantage also makes the shoulder an easy joint to dislocate.

A partial dislocation (subluxation) means the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) is partially out of the socket (glenoid). A complete dislocation means it is all the way out of the socket. Both partial and complete dislocations cause pain and unsteadiness in the shoulder.

Often, dislocation may tear ligaments or tendons in the shoulder or damage nerves.

The shoulder joint can dislocate forward, backward, or downward. A common type of shoulder dislocation is when the shoulder slips forward (anterior instability). 

Diagnosis

Dr. Wilson will examine the shoulder and order an X-ray. It is important that he know how the dislocation happened and whether the shoulder had ever been dislocated before.

Treatment

Generally, dislocations are set at the time of injury either on the field or in the emergency room. This process is called closed reduction. Severe pain stops almost immediately once the shoulder joint is back in place.

Rehabilitation

Dr. Wilson may immobilize the shoulder in a sling for several weeks following closed reduction. Plenty of rest is needed. The sore area can be iced 3 to 4 times a day.

After the pain and swelling go down, Dr. Wilson will prescribe rehabilitation exercises for you. These help restore the shoulder's range of motion and strengthen the muscles. Rehabilitation may also help prevent dislocating the shoulder again in the future. Rehabilitation will begin with gentle muscle toning exercises. Later, weight training can be added.

If shoulder dislocation becomes a chronic condition, a brace can sometimes help. However, if therapy and bracing fail, surgery may be needed to repair or tighten the torn or stretched ligaments that help hold the joint in place, particularly in young athletes.