What is a dislocated shoulder?
Our shoulder joint allows more range of motion than any other joint in the body. The same anatomy that gives this joint such extensive range of motion also makes our shoulder the most unstable. This joint is the most common site for a full or partial dislocation. A shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the upper arm bone is knocked out of the shoulder socket.
What causes a shoulder dislocation?
There are two types of shoulder dislocation: traumatic and atraumatic.
- Traumatic:Accidents are the most frequent cause of a traumatic shoulder dislocation, accounting for about 96 percent of dislocations. Most occur during contact sports, or when we try to use our hand or arm to break a fall.
- Atraumatic: These injuries occur gradually over time, when the shoulder bone starts to slip out of the socket. Atraumatic dislocations can cause limited shoulder movement in a number of directions.
What are the symptoms of a dislocated shoulder?
Common symptoms of shoulder dislocation include:
How is a dislocated shoulder diagnosed?
If you suspect that your shoulder is dislocated, it is important to see an orthopedic specialist. Medical treatment for a shoulder dislocation is important because it includes radiographic images before and after the shoulder is reset. Imaging enables your physician to check for related fractures and other injuries in the joint.
The diagnostic process starts by talking with you about your symptoms and conducting a detailed physical examination. Diagnostic imaging, including X-rays and MRI scans, are used to confirm the diagnosis and check for other injuries to the shoulder.
How is a dislocated shoulder treated nonsurgically?
A dislocated shoulder may be medically repaired with or without surgery, depending on how severe the injury is. Shoulder repair that does not require surgery is called a closed reduction. There are a number of closed reduction techniques that can be tailored to the specific injury. This nonsurgical repair can be used even when there is associated nerve and fracture injury.
It is important to avoid multiple reduction attempts, which may further damage the shoulder joint or risk bone death (necrosis).
How long does it take to recover from a dislocated shoulder?
A number of factors determine how well your shoulder will recover after a dislocation, including the following:
- The cause of the injury
- Your age
- Any related fracture and muscle, ligament, vascular, or nerve injury
- The number of reduction attempts before the shoulder is reset
Males between the ages of 10 and 20 have the highest rate of shoulder dislocations and are more likely than women to experience continuing problems with shoulder instability following this injury. Once a shoulder has been dislocated, you are at greater risk of dislocating it again in the future. This risk is highest in patients under the age of 20.
Ask the Expert: Shoulder Video Series
Treating a dislocated shoulder involves more than putting the bone back in the shoulder joint. We explain the factors that determine treatment outcome.
Our favorite action hero might snap a dislocated shoulder back into place as he emerges from the fray, but research shows that resetting a shoulder dislocation without medical assistance can cause problems later on.