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Dislocated Shoulder: From Diagnosis to Treatment/Rehab

Author: Rosemary Buckle, M.D.

Shoulder dislocation is one of the most common sports injuries. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has found young men to be at the greatest risk for shoulder dislocation. Can you guess the second-highest risk group for shoulder dislocation? Elderly women. Both athletic injuries and falls can lead to shoulder dislocation – no matter a patient’s age or activity level.

Dislocated Shoulder Symptoms

Dislocation is when the glenoid (the “ball” of the upper arm bone) comes out of the socket. A dislocation may be “partial” or “complete.” Both types of dislocations can cause pain and discomfort and require attention from a health care provider. Dislocated shoulder symptoms may include:

  • Moderate to intense pain
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Bruising
  • Joint immobility

While the shoulder can dislocate in several different directions, the most common dislocation is “anterior instability” – forward slipping. This type of dislocation may occur from throwing a ball or some other type of forward motion.

In some patients, shoulder dislocation is associated with ligament, tendon or nerve damage. SLAP tears, for example, may also occur at the time of injury, causing additional symptoms. If you are experiencing a severe and/or persistent shoulder injury, schedule with a sports medicine physician.

Diagnosing & Treating a Dislocated Shoulder

During your sports med doctor appointment your physician will examine the shoulder and ask questions about how the injury occurred. An x-ray is often ordered to confirm a diagnosis. In some cases, an MRI or other scan could be necessary. It is very important to inform your doctor if the shoulder has been dislocated before, as repeat dislocations can cause instability.

In many cases, the dislocated shoulder simply needs to be adjusted. By returning the humerus into the joint socket, your sports medicine provider may be able to significantly improve your symptoms. Once the joint is restored, you may be given a sling and instructions to keep the shoulder joint completely immobile. Ice the joint and take anti-inflammatories as instructed by your physician.

Rehab for a Dislocated Shoulder

As symptoms of pain and swelling improve, your physician may prescribe physical therapy or rehabilitation exercises you can do at-home. It’s important to follow-through with these exercises, as they help restore strength and range of motion. Surgery may be needed if rehab doesn’t help improve symptoms. Dislocated shoulder surgery is not common, however.

See a Houston Sports Medicine Doctor

To learn more about how a Houston sports medicine physician can help you, call us at (713) 756-5546.

Please consult with your physician before undertaking any form of medical treatment or adopting any exercise program or dietary guidelines.