Shoulder dislocation and instability

Man playing basketball with hurt shoulder

​Shoulder dislocation is a painful injury that occurs when the upper arm bone (humerus) pops out of its normal position in the shoulder joint. The most common causes of a dislocated shoulder include a fall, a direct blow to the shoulder or the violent twisting of the shoulder. Many times there is damage to the surrounding ligaments, tendons, nerves and blood vessels of the shoulder joint. It is possible to have a shoulder fracture and dislocation at the same time.

Shoulder dislocation symptoms

The symptoms of a shoulder dislocation include:

  • Bruising

  • Inability to move the shoulder

  • Numbness

  • Pain

  • Swelling 

  • Visible deformity of the shoulder

  • Seek medical attention immediately for a dislocated shoulder. 

Shoulder dislocation diagnosis

Your doctor may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose a dislocated shoulder:

  • A physical exam—to assess pain, swelling and range of motion in the shoulder.

  • X-ray— uses a tiny dose of ionizing radiation to produce pictures of the shoulder joint. 

Shoulder dislocation treatment 

Depending on the severity of your dislocated shoulder, your treatment may include: 

  • Immobilization—your doctor may require you to wear a sling for a few weeks to allow your shoulder to heal. 

  • Physical therapy—you may need physical therapy once your sling is removed to strengthen the shoulder area. Physical therapy can help reduce your chances of a repeat dislocation. 

  • Reduction—typically the first form of treatment. During this procedure, the surgeon or emergency room doctor gently maneuvers the shoulder into its correct position. He or she may give you local or general anesthesia before this procedure.

  • Surgery—shoulder surgery may be needed if there is blood vessel, nerve or ligament damage from the dislocation, or if you experience recurring dislocations. 

Most people who experience a shoulder dislocation can return to regular activities after a few weeks of rehabilitation and rest. However, once you have dislocated your shoulder joint, you may be at increased risk for dislocating it again. 

At The Christ Hospital Health Network, our orthopedic specialists have the experience and skill to diagnose and treat a dislocated shoulder, so you can get back to work and the activities you enjoy.

Find an orthopedic specialist near you.