A dislocated shoulder is painful and requires treatment. Your shoulder joint is one of the most mobile joints in your body. It can move and rotate in many different directions – but it’s this very flexibility that makes it one of the easiest joints to dislocate.
The shoulder works as a ball and socket joint. The ball is at the round top of your arm bone (the humerus] and it fits into the socket space in your shoulder blade (the scapula).
A dislocation of the shoulder happens when the head of the humerus is forced out of its normal position and moves – partially or completely – out of the socket. This is called a dislocation and it causes pain and swelling, and it immobilizes your arm. Most shoulder dislocations are the result of a sports injury or an accident, such as a fall.
Manual Repositioning of a Dislocated Shoulder
Usually, the first step in the treatment of a dislocated shoulder is to return the bone to its natural position. A doctor will manipulate the ball of the upper arm bone back into the joint socket. This process is called a closed reduction. Pain usually decreases considerably after a reduction. X-rays will usually follow the reduction.
Once your doctor reviews your X-ray results, you may be given a sling or other device to keep your shoulder immobilized for several weeks. You may be prescribed medicine to block pain and relax your muscles.
After the pain and swelling go down, physical therapy can help restore your shoulder’s range of motion and strengthen the muscles in the area. As your shoulder continues to heal, you will perform weight-bearing exercises.
Your doctor will tell you when you can return to your normal routine. Until then, avoid any activities that place too much stress on your shoulder joint. This may include playing most sports, heavy lifting, and moving your arm above shoulder level. It usually takes up to 14 weeks for your shoulder to return to its normal function.
Surgery for a Dislocated Shoulder
Occasionally, the closed reduction of the dislocated shoulder may fail. If this occurs, it will be necessary for an orthopedic surgeon to perform an open, surgical reduction. In some cases, traction (a system of weights and pulleys) may be required for healing.
Surgery may be needed to repair the damage to your shoulder caused by dislocation. Many of these procedures can be performed using arthroscopic surgery, where a miniature camera and a light are inserted through a small incision and very small tools are used for the surgery.
You may also need surgery if your shoulder dislocates in the future; having had a dislocation increases the risk that it may occur again so it’s very important to participate in physical therapy to build up your strength and optimize the stability of the shoulder.
Dr. Bill Hefley is devoted to treating a broad range of conditions affecting the shoulder, hip, and knee, both operatively and nonoperatively. If you have any questions about the treatment of shoulder injuries, please contact us. Call (800) 336-2412 or use our online appointment request form.