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Understanding Shoulder Dislocations

Shoulder dislocations infographic

Shoulder dislocations are one of the most common kinds of shoulder injuries and should be treated by a medical professional (popping it back into place like a character in an action movie is NOT a good idea).

Two different kinds of shoulder dislocations

  1. Classic dislocation: a tearing of the ligament between the upper arm bone and the shoulder blade.
    1. Extremely painful
    2. Requires open surgery with a tendon graft from the patient or a cadaver
    3. Should be handled as soon as possible to avoid further damage
  2. Should separation: a tearing of the ligament between the collar bone and the shoulder blade.
    1. Not as painful (some people continue with their daily activities. NOT a good idea)
    2. Ligaments will heal once the bones are correctly aligned

Shoulder dislocations result from trauma

The vast majority of shoulder dislocations are the results of falls or accidents in sports activities such as:

  • Football
  • Wrestling
  • Skiing
  • Surfing
  • Baseball
  • Mountain biking

Short-term treatment

In the few moments after a shoulder dislocation, but before proper medical attention is available, it is helpful to do two things:

  1. Keep the joint from moving out of its current position. A sling or splint may be used, but it is important to avoid forcing the shoulder into any position, even one that seems less painful.
  2. Apply ice or a cold compress. This restricts blood flow and reduces swelling.

Recurring shoulder dislocations

This is bad. Each time this happens, it can cause further damage, even if it seems as if the shoulder can be popped back into place. See a doctor in order to avoid further complications.

Further complications

Left untreated or not treated properly, a shoulder dislocation can become much, much worse.

  • Torn muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the shoulder joint
  • Nerve damage in the shoulder
  • Broken or ruined blood vessels in the shoulder
  • High likelihood of further injuries


Preventing a shoulder dislocation is worth the small amount of time it takes to put on protective gear when engaging in contact sports or to perform exercises that strengthen the shoulder and make the joints more flexible.