Jul 29, 2021 12:00 PM

If you are worried you have a shoulder dislocation, don’t panic, but do get specialized care right away.

“The longer you wait to have the dislocated shoulder put back in place, the harder it is to do.” Explains Julia Rawlings, MD, University Orthopaedic Center. “With time, the tissues around the joint swell and the muscles spasm. Depending upon the facility you go to, the length of time the shoulder has been dislocated, and the age of the patient, medication may be needed to help reduce the shoulder.”

A sling, handkerchief, or any makeshift support can be used to stabilize the arm can provide support and decrease pain as you make your way to the doctor’s office of hospital.

What causes a dislocated shoulder?

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

  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Rock climbing
  • Snowboarding

Shoulder dislocations are most common in teenagers and young adults. Shoulder dislocations in children and infants are extremely rare.

Sounds and signs of dislocation

Patients often know when a dislocation happens because they feel the shoulder pop out of joint. There may be an audible pop as well. The shoulder is very painful when it is dislocated, and there is significant relief when the shoulder is put back into place.

Someone with a dislocated shoulder instinctively holds their injured arm tucked in close, supported by the other arm to minimize movement and pain. There is usually an obvious change deformity to the shoulder as well. It is helpful to compare the injured side to the uninjured side to see if they look different.

Partially dislocated shoulder symptoms

A different problem is shoulder instability, also called shoulder subluxation. The shoulder feels like it’s loose, but is not coming all the way out.

Two activities were participants seem to be prone to shoulder instability are swimming and dancing. This may be that people that are flexible thrive in these activities. Increased flexibility can make you more prone to joint instability.

For shoulder instability, Dr. Rawlings advises that “the best treatment to start with is physical therapy and generally, you don’t want to do surgery for shoulder instability.”

Dislocated shoulder treatments

The bones of the shoulder joint are surrounded by supportive ligaments and tendons. These can be damaged when the shoulder is dislocated. Once the initial emergency is addressed and the shoulder is back in the socket, the injury will be treated with a supportive sling for several days.  

People who have dislocated the shoulder should follow up with an orthopedic specialist. Dr. Rawlings cautions, “A patient may need surgery to address the damaged tissues after a shoulder dislocation. Important factors to decide whether or not a patient needs surgery include the age of the patient and how active they are. Some patients may be able to start with physical therapy to heal the injury.

Dislocated shoulder recovery: how long will it take?

It depends.

According to Dr. Rawlings, “Depending on the amount of damage that was done in the shoulder, it can take weeks to months to recover from a shoulder dislocation. Recovery after surgery may take up to a year.”

For a true shoulder dislocation, get same-day treatment as soon as possible.

If you or your kids are physically active, plan ahead. Know your nearest urgent care, emergency department, and orthopedic specialist before you hear the pop.

Want more info?

Link to infographic https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2019/02/shoulder-dislocation.php

Dr. Julia Rawlings cares for orthopaedic injuries in pediatric patients and acute injuries for patients of all ages in the Orthopaedic Injury Clinic. She is board-certified in Pediatrics, Pediatric Emergency Medicine and Sports Medicine.

ortho othopaedics shoulder shoulder pain shoulder dislocation

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