Key Points about Shoulder Dislocation

  • Common causes of shoulder dislocations include a fall, collision, or other accident involving force such as an auto accident or contact sports injury.
  • About one-quarter of diagnosed shoulder dislocations also involve some level of shoulder fracture.
  • Shoulder dislocations are characterized by pain, bruising, swelling, deformity, and loss of range of motion.
  • Shoulder dislocations sometimes require surgery to strengthen and repair damage to supporting tendons, ligaments, and muscles to avoid re-injury.

Overview

The shoulder is a joint formed by the upper arm bone and the cup of the shoulder blade. It is the joint in the body most susceptible to dislocation because of its wide range of motion and relatively shallow socket.

Shoulder dislocations commonly occur as a result of a fall, collision, or other accident involving force such as an auto accident or contact sports injury. Dislocated shoulders are treated by having the ball of the joint repositioned into the socket, by resting and icing the joint, and by taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

Shoulder dislocation causes

The shoulder is one of the most flexible joints in the body, which makes it one of the most frequently dislocated joints in the body.

Common causes of shoulder dislocations include:

  • Contact sports-related injuries – many downhill skiers, gymnasts and football players experience shoulder dislocations
  • Motor vehicle accidents – people who experience a hard hit to the shoulder can experience a shoulder dislocation
  • Falling onto an outstretched arm –
  • Falling from heights

Shoulder dislocation risk factors

You may be at an increased risk of dislocating a shoulder if you:

  • Age and gender – active, younger men are the most likely group to suffer a shoulder dislocation
  • Previously dislocated a shoulder
  • Engage in high-risk activities involving heights or speed
  • Play contact sports

Shoulder dislocation symptoms

Common symptoms of a dislocated shoulder include:

  • Extreme pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Deformed or out of place appearance
  • Inability to move the shoulder
  • Numbness or tingling in the arm after fall or other trauma

Shoulder dislocation complications

Complications arising from a dislocated shoulder may include:

  • Shoulder instability and an increased chance of a subsequent dislocation
  • Damage to nerves and or blood vessels in and around the joint
  • Torn muscles, ligaments and tendons around the joint may require surgical repair
  • Rotator cuff damage
  • Decreased in range of motion

Shoulder dislocation prevention

Once you have suffered a shoulder dislocation, you are at a higher risk of experiencing it again. Therefore, it is essential to preventive steps to avoid recurrence.

Shoulder dislocations can be prevented by:

  • Avoiding high-risk activities involving contact sports, heights or speed
  • Avoiding falling
  • Wearing proper protective equipment during sports
  • Maintaining strength and flexibility in muscles and joints

Shoulder dislocation diagnosis

Medical professionals can usually diagnose a dislocated shoulder by a visual and physical examination.  X-rays may be used to confirm your diagnosis. A shoulder X-ray can reveal a broken bone or any other damage in the shoulder.

Shoulder dislocation treatment

Treatment for a dislocated shoulder may involve:

  • Repositioning the ball of the joint back into the socket
  • Icing and taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to reduce swelling and pain
  • Wearing a sling to immobilize the joint during the healing process
  • Beginning physical therapy as soon as recommended to facilitate joint movement
  • Surgery is a last resort option if your nerves or blood vessels are damaged

When to seek care

Seek care right away if you experience swelling, bruising, severe pain, deformity, or any other dislocation symptoms listed above after a fall or as a result of other physical trauma to the joint.  

If your shoulder dislocation is not complicated, without nerve or tissue damage, you will find relief within a few weeks.

Next Steps

Your doctor will assess your symptoms and provide treatment accordingly.

After you have healed, take preventive steps to avoid future shoulder dislocations.