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What Is Shoulder Dislocation?

A joint is a point where two or more of bones come together. The shoulder joint is the body’s most movable joint. Because of this, it’s the most likely one to become dislocated. Dislocation occurs when the ball of the joint (the top rounded part of the upper arm bone) is pulled out of its socket. The two types of shoulder dislocation are atraumatic and traumatic. The atraumatic one often occurs in a teenager who has a loose joint. The traumatic one often results from sporting injuries or using the joint excessively with manual labor.

What Causes Shoulder Dislocation?

Shoulder dislocation happens most often to people in their 30s when they play sports. It frequently occurs in manual laborers who get injured. People who are 60 to 80 years old commonly dislocate their shoulders in a fall. People with generalized seizures may also develop shoulder dislocation during seizures. After the first dislocation of a shoulder, the shoulder will be more likely to dislocate again, but this likelihood may decrease with time as the shoulder heals.

What Are the Symptoms of Shoulder Dislocation?

Signs and symptoms include the arm of the affected shoulder looking dislocated or out of place, swelling, bruising or discoloration, holding the shoulder or arm in a fixed position, being unable to move the shoulder, numbness, weakness, and pain in the shoulder. This pain may travel down the arm and into the hand.

How Is Shoulder Dislocation Diagnosed?

The health care provider will make a diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. You will be asked questions about events leading up to the injury or overuse of the arm. The health care provider will do a physical examination and order x-rays. Other imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be done.

How Is Shoulder Dislocation Treated?

The health care provider may move the joint back into place. The arm may be put into a sling or splint to minimize movement of the joint. The health care provider may prescribe medicines for pain and inflammation (swelling, redness).

The health care provider may suggest seeing a physical therapist. This health care professional can teach how to reduce the risk of injuring the shoulder again. The therapist may also teach exercises to strengthen the shoulder joint.

Care from another specialist, such as an orthopedist, may be needed. An orthopedist specializes in treating joints and bones. This referral is especially likely if the shoulder was dislocated before or if it becomes increasingly harder to use the shoulder and arm. Surgery may be needed if the shoulder is weak and dislocates often.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Shoulder Dislocation:

  • DO tell your health care provider about the medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
  • DO exercises that your health care provider, physical therapist, or other health care professional recommends.
  • DO return to your health care provider for follow-up care when suggested.
  • DO wear protective clothing and equipment when playing sports.
  • DO call your health care provider if your shoulder pain persists after treatment.
  • DO call your health care provider if you develop weakness in your arm or hand.
  • DON’T do strenuous activities or lift heavy objects without your health care provider’s permission.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
    Tel: (877) 226-4267
  • American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
    Tel: (800) 346-AAOS (346-2267)

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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