Accessibility Tools

What Is a Shoulder Dislocation?

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the upper arm bone is partially or fully forced out of the shoulder socket. Sometimes, the fibrous tissue that secures the shoulder bones in place can become stretched or torn, further complicating the dislocation. Often a result of direct trauma to the shoulder, this type of injury can occur during a fall, sporting mishap or car accident.

What does a shoulder dislocation feel like?

Sometimes, it is possible to feel the arm bone “pop” out of place. Usually, this sensation is followed by intense pain, swelling, bruising and muscle weakness in the shoulder and arm. Other symptoms of a shoulder dislocation include:

  • An inability to move the shoulder or raise the arm
  • Numbness and tingling near the injury site
  • Muscle spasms that worsen the pain

If a shoulder dislocation is suspected, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. In the meantime, the affected shoulder should be held in a sling or otherwise immobilized to help prevent further damage. Ice applications can help relieve pain and swelling by constricting blood vessels and reducing the buildup of fluids in and around the damaged shoulder joint.

How is a shoulder dislocation treated?

Depending on the type and extent of the damage, a dislocated shoulder may be treated with:

  • A closed reduction procedure – A physician can manually guide the shoulder bones back into their proper positions.
  • Medications – An over-the-counter pain reliever or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) may be taken to improve comfort. If necessary, a physician may also prescribe a muscle relaxant.
  • Temporary immobilization – A special splint or sling may be worn for a short period of time to keep the shoulder from moving excessively as it heals.
  • Physical therapy – A progressive rehabilitation program can be performed to restore strength, stability and range of motion to the shoulder joint.
  • A surgical procedure – Surgery may be considered to address a weakened shoulder joint, recurrent shoulder dislocations or nerve damage.

A relatively simple shoulder dislocation that does not involve major tissue or nerve damage may slowly improve over the course of a few weeks. Activities should be resumed gradually in order to help prevent reinjury. Any type of shoulder dislocation will increase the risk of future dislocations, even after the initial injury has fully healed.

If you’ve injured your shoulder, you can consult with an experienced orthopedic specialist at Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX. Since 1983, our team has proudly served Houston, Texas, and the surrounding areas. We can evaluate your injury and make tailored recommendations to help you resume your active lifestyle.