CNY Orthopedic Sports Medicine, PC: Injury: Shoulder Dislocations

Injuries and Conditions: Shoulder: Shoulder Dislocations

A shoulder dislocation may occur when the shoulder joint is subjected to trauma, most typically from an impact after a fall while the arm is outstretched. A dislocation separates the ball from the socket in the shoulder joint, causing severe pain and a loss of motion within the shoulder.
  • Dislocations can very in severity, ranging from a partial to a complete dislocation. A "subluxation" or a partial dislocation is a less severe type of injury, which occurs when the upper-arm bone (humerus) is only partially separated from the shoulder joint socket.
  • A complete dislocation occurs when the humerus completely separates from the socket, frequently causing ligament tears and injuring the surrounding structures of the joint, such as the capsule and rotator cuff.
  • Most injuries are immediately treatable with a non-surgical repositioning or a "reduction" procedure, which greatly reduces the intense pain of the injury. This procedure reinserts the ball of the humerus into the shoulder joint socket; following reduction, additional treatment to rehabilitate the shoulder will also be required.
  • For shoulders that remain unstable after a reduction, or if injury has occurred to surrounding structures, surgical treatments tighten and repair the damaged joint capsule.

  • Signs and Symptoms
  • Sudden joint pain, swelling or bruising following a sudden movement or blow to the shoulder region.
  • Inability to move the shoulder without experiencing severe pain, and the arm must often be held in a protracted position because of pain.
  • Muscle spasms, numbness or paralysis can occur in the injured arm.
  • Loss of the normal rounded contour of the shoulder with visible "dimple" in the muscle.


  • Contact the Doctor if ...
  • The patient has the signs and symptoms of a dislocated shoulder - the dislocation will need to be reduced (relocated) by a physician.
  • Non-surgical treatment has failed to control the pain, restore function, or shoulder dislocations continue.
  • The patient experiences unexplained symptoms, other types of pain, or unexpected side effects of medication.

  • Common Causes of Injury
  • A traumatic event such as a fall or a backward force on an extended arm, a direct upward blow to the shoulder, or a twisting injury when the arm is above the level of the chest.
  • Shallow or abnormally formed joint surfaces of the shoulder (glenohumeral joint) can increase the likelihood of a dislocation.
  • Occasionally, rheumatoid arthritis or other diseases, which affect the ligaments and tissue surrounding the shoulder joint can increase the likelihood of dislocation; these structures help correctly position the shoulder joint, and if damaged allow the shoulder to dislocate more easily.
  • A loose or unstable shoulder resulting from repetitive wear and tear or previous shoulder injury or previous shoulder dislocation.

  • Expectations of Recovery
  • After a complete dislocation, healing of the injured shoulder will take a minimum of 3 - 6 months.
  • Immobilization of the shoulder may be required for up to 6 weeks.
  • For less severe dislocations, which are treated with non-surgical treatments, symptoms may diminish in several weeks, but a return to full activity may take several months.
  • Factors affecting recovery include your age, level of health, and the extent of repair required. Recovery is also dependent on the severity of the injury and condition of the shoulder prior to injury.


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