Shoulder Dislocation

This article will discuss what a dislocated shoulder is, the common causes and risk factors, the symptoms to watch for, and how this injury is diagnosed and treated. We’ll also discuss the typical recovery timeline and provide tips for preventing future dislocations. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with a shoulder dislocation, understanding these aspects is crucial for effective management and recovery. For specialized care, consider scheduling an appointment with Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine, offering expert treatment in Granville and Coshocton, Ohio.

What is a Dislocated Shoulder?

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket. The shoulder joint, where the upper arm bone meets the shoulder blade, is highly mobile, giving our arms a wide range of motion. However, this mobility also makes the shoulder joint prone to dislocations.

When you experience a shoulder dislocation, the upper arm bone moves out of place, causing intense pain and making it difficult to move your arm. The shoulder might look visibly deformed, and you may not be able to use it normally. Swelling and bruising can occur around the area, and you might feel a sense of weakness in the shoulder and upper arm.

What Often Causes a Dislocated Shoulder?

A dislocated shoulder often happens when the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket. This can occur due to a variety of reasons, including falls, accidents, and sports injuries. High-impact sports like football, basketball, and skiing are common causes because they involve movements that can stress the shoulder joint.

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of shoulder dislocations. People with weak shoulder blade muscles may be more prone to this injury. A previous history of dislocated shoulders also raises the risk, as the joint can become more unstable over time.

Additionally, activities that involve repetitive overhead movements, such as swimming or pitching in baseball, can strain the shoulder joint and lead to partial dislocation or complete dislocation.

A woman with a dislocated shoulder in Granville, Ohio.

What Are Some Common Dislocated Shoulder Symptoms?

Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder are usually quite noticeable and can cause significant discomfort. The most common symptom is severe pain. This pain occurs immediately after the shoulder joint is forced out of place and can be intense enough to make any shoulder or arm movement very difficult.

Another clear symptom of a dislocated shoulder is visible deformity. The shoulder may appear to be out of its normal position, looking square instead of round. This change in appearance is due to the upper arm bone shifting out of the shoulder socket.

Pain and swelling are also common symptoms. The shoulder area may swell quickly after the injury due to inflammation and possible damage to surrounding tissues. This swelling can make the shoulder look puffy and feel tender to the touch.

Bruising can develop around the shoulder joint as well. This happens because small blood vessels may be damaged during the dislocation, leading to internal bleeding and discoloration of the skin.

Limited range of motion is another key symptom. People with a dislocated shoulder often find it very difficult or impossible to move their arm without experiencing severe pain. The shoulder may feel weak and unstable, making it hard to perform normal activities.

In some cases, numbness or tingling may occur in the arm or hand. This can happen if nerves or blood vessels are compressed or damaged during the dislocation. Immediate medical attention is crucial to assess and treat these potential complications.

Recognizing these symptoms of a dislocated shoulder is important for seeking prompt treatment. Proper medical care can help reposition the shoulder joint, reduce pain and swelling, and prevent further injury. If you suspect a shoulder dislocation, it’s essential to get help right away to ensure a proper recovery.

How is a Dislocated Shoulder Diagnosed?

Diagnosing a dislocated shoulder typically begins with a physical examination by a doctor. During this exam, the doctor will look at the position of the shoulder and check for visible deformities. They will also ask about the injury and your symptoms, such as severe pain, swelling, and difficulty moving the shoulder.

To confirm the diagnosis and assess the extent of the injury, the doctor will usually order imaging tests. The most common test is an X-ray, which provides a clear picture of the bones in the shoulder joint. This helps the doctor see if the upper arm bone is out of the shoulder socket and if there are any fractures.

In some cases, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) or CT (Computed Tomography) scan might be used. These tests give more detailed images of the soft tissues, such as muscles, ligaments, and blood vessels, to check for additional injuries that might not be visible on an X-ray.

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor can then decide on the best treatment plan to reposition the shoulder and promote healing. Quick and accurate diagnosis is crucial for reducing pain and preventing further damage.

How is a Dislocated Shoulder Treated?

Treating a dislocated shoulder typically involves several steps aimed at repositioning the joint and promoting recovery. The first step is usually a procedure called closed reduction, where a doctor gently maneuvers the upper arm bone back into the shoulder socket. This can reduce pain and restore normal function to the shoulder.

Before performing the reduction, the doctor may administer pain relief or muscle relaxants to help ease discomfort and make the procedure smoother. Sometimes, sedation is used to ensure the patient is relaxed and experiences minimal pain.

After the shoulder is back in place, the arm is often immobilized with a sling or a brace to keep it stable and allow the injured tissues to heal. This immobilization period typically lasts for a few weeks, depending on the severity of the dislocation and the patient’s overall health.

To further reduce pain and swelling, doctors recommend applying ice packs to the shoulder several times a day and taking over-the-counter pain medications as needed.

Physical therapy is a crucial part of the treatment process. Once the initial pain and swelling have subsided, exercises are introduced to restore strength and range of motion to the shoulder joint. This helps prevent future dislocations and ensures a full recovery.

In some severe cases, if there is significant damage to the shoulder joint or recurrent dislocations, surgery might be necessary to repair torn ligaments or other structures.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from a Dislocated Shoulder?

Recovering from a dislocated shoulder can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity of the injury and the treatment received. Most people regain normal shoulder function within 3-4 months. However, the exact duration can vary.

Younger individuals or those who are active may heal faster, while older adults or those with more severe injuries might take longer. Consistently following the rehabilitation plan and avoiding activities that could stress the shoulder is key to a successful recovery.

In cases where surgery is needed, recovery might take longer, potentially up to 6 months or more. Regular follow-ups with a healthcare provider ensure the shoulder is healing properly and help prevent future dislocations.

Expert Care for Shoulder Dislocations and Sports Injuries

If you or a loved one experiences a dislocated shoulder, seeking professional care is crucial to ensure a full and swift recovery.

For expert care, schedule an appointment with Orthopedic Specialists & Sports Medicine. With locations in Granville and Coshocton, OH, our team is dedicated to helping you recover from shoulder dislocations and other sports injuries. Contact us today to start your journey to recovery and regain your active lifestyle!

Medically reviewed by
Alex Tancevski, M.D.