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What Is Chronic Shoulder Instability?

Shoulder instability occurs when the head of the upper arm bone is partially or completely forced out of the shoulder socket. A shoulder dislocation can occur suddenly through direct trauma or gradually through repetitive strain. Because the shoulder joint is highly mobile and has a wide range of motion, it is susceptible to instability and other injuries.

If the muscles, ligaments and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint become loose or torn, dislocations can occur repeatedly. Chronic shoulder instability is a persistent inability of these supportive tissues to keep the upper arm bone properly positioned in the shoulder socket.

What does shoulder instability feel like?

Chronic shoulder instability can cause several symptoms. For instance:

  • A partial shoulder dislocation (subluxation) can cause sudden pain, a feeling that the shoulder joint is “loose” and a slipping or pinching sensation when the corresponding arm is raised overhead.
  • A complete shoulder dislocation can cause sudden, severe pain that intensifies with movement. Bruising, swelling and visible deformity may occur as well.
  • In either case, if a nearby nerve is stretched, numbness may develop on the outside of the arm, just below the tip of the shoulder. Additionally, the shoulder muscles may temporarily weaken until the damage heals.

After a shoulder dislocation is confirmed with an X-ray, a reduction procedure may be necessary to restore the joint to its proper alignment. Oftentimes, a dislocated shoulder can be reduced without surgery (a closed reduction).

How is chronic shoulder instability treated?

Shoulder instability can often be treated with nonsurgical methods such as activity modification, physical therapy and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In some cases, surgery may be recommended to repair a torn or stretched ligament so that it can better hold the bones in place. At Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, Texas, our board-certified and double-board-certified surgeons can perform minimally invasive shoulder arthroscopies and other procedures as appropriate to repair damaged shoulder ligaments.

To learn more about shoulder instability symptoms and treatment options, contact Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine of Houston, TX, today.