The shoulder is the most moveable joint in your body. It helps you to lift your arm, rotate it, and reach up over your head. This greater range of motion, however, can cause instability. Shoulder instability happens when the head of the upper arm bone is forced out of the shoulder socket—your shoulder is dislocated.

This can happen from a sudden injury or from overuse. Once your shoulder has dislocated, the risk of it happening again is greater. When the shoulder is loose and slips out of place repeatedly, it is called chronic shoulder instability.

Shoulder Instability

Some people with shoulder instability have never had a dislocation. Most of these patients have looser ligaments in their shoulders. Sometimes this looseness is normal anatomy, but sometimes it is the result of repetitive overhead motion from sports or work. Swimming, tennis, and volleyball are sports that require repetitive overhead motion that can stretch out the shoulder ligaments.

Looser ligaments can make it hard to maintain shoulder stability. High shoulder stress activities can challenge a weakened shoulder. This can result in a painful, unstable shoulder.

Find a Shoulder Specialist

What Causes Your Shoulder to Dislocate?

Severe injury, or trauma, often causes your shoulder to dislocate. When the head of your upper arm bone (humerus) dislocates, the socket and the ligaments in the front of the shoulder are often injured. The labrum — the cartilage rim around the edge of the glenoid — may also tear.

Chronic Dislocation/Instability

A severe first dislocation can lead to continued dislocations, giving out, or a feeling of instability. If you have a dislocation to the back of the shoulder this may cause also cause a lesion, which could lead to giving out or a feeling of instability to the back of the shoulder.

Symptoms of Chronic Shoulder Instability

Some common symptoms of chronic shoulder instability include:

  • pain,
  • repeated dislocations, and
  • a persistent sensation of the shoulder feeling loose, slipping in and out of the joint, or just hanging there.

Treatment for Shoulder Instability

We usually treat first-time shoulder instability with physical therapy and by modifying your activities. However, if the instability reoccurs then we might recommend surgery. What surgery we recommend depends on your injury. Your doctor can discuss the best options with you.

Labrum Repair

To repair shoulder instability, we reattach the cartilage to the socket. This attachment allows the shoulder to remain stable in the joint when you move the shoulder in many different directions. The goal of labrum repair surgery is to reduce pain in your shoulder by restoring the normal anatomy and function.

Full recovery from your shoulder surgery will take several months and could even take up to a year based on complexity of the surgery and other individual variables.

Bony Instability Procedure

If you have a history of reoccurring shoulder instability, there may be a chance that your shoulder joint has lost bone. If this is true, your doctor might recommend surgery. The goal of surgery is to reattach bone that was lost during the reoccurring dislocations. This attachment allows the shoulder to remain stable by restoring a more normal anatomy to your shoulder.

Recovery From Shoulder Instability Procedures

After surgery, you will be required to use a sling for the first 4–5+ weeks to help protect your repair. Your shoulder may be stiff and uncomfortable. We might also recommend physical therapy to help you regain shoulder motion and strength. Physical therapy may be recommended three to six weeks following surgery in some situations.

Sleeping and resting might be more comfortable if you are propped up in bed or have access to a recliner. Sleeping can remain uncomfortable or more difficult even up to a few weeks or months after surgery. This is not uncommon after shoulder surgery. You will also be required to wear your sling during sleep for protection.

When to See an Orthopedic Doctor

If you're suffering from shoulder or elbow pain, you may not know when it's appropriate to seek out a specialist for pain relief. Learn how to spot the signs of severe or prolonged pain that can't be remedied at home.

When to Seek Help