Shoulder Dislocation

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?

This joint injury is classified as either traumatic or atraumatic:

  • Traumatic: Accidents are the most frequent cause this shoulder injury, 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 shoulder dislocation?

Common symptoms of shoulder dislocation include:

  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Bruising
  • Numbness

How is shoulder dislocation diagnosed?

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. An orthopedic physician is able to evaluate these shoulder injuries with a thorough understanding of anatomy, relocation maneuvers, immobilization techniques, and rehabilitation programs, which increase the probability of a good outcome and reduce the risk of subsequent dislocation or future corrective surgery.

How is shoulder dislocation treated?

A dislocated shoulder may be medically repaired with or without surgery, depending on the severity of the injury. 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. However, it is important to avoid multiple reduction attempts, which may further damage joint structures or risk necrosis (cellular bone death and collapse of the bone structures due to interruption in blood supply to the bone).

What can I expect for recovery after treatment?

A number of factors determine how well your shoulder will recover after a dislocation, including the following:

  • The cause of the injury.
  • The age of the patient suffering the injury.
  • Any related fracture and muscle, ligament, vascular, or nerve injury.
  • The number of 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 recurrent instability following this shoulder injury. Once a shoulder has been dislocated, there is an increased risk of a subsequent dislocation. This risk is highest in younger patients under the age of 20.

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