Treating a Dislocated Shoulder

A dislocated shoulder most frequently results from some sort of trauma. Common causes are auto accidents, slip and falls, and sports injuries. This can be an extremely painful injury and requires attention from a shoulder surgeon or specialist.


A dislocated shoulder occurs when the upper arm bone (the humerus) pops out of joint. An anterior dislocation is when the displaced arm bone moves towards the front of the body, generally resulting from a hard hit to the back of the body or a fall. A posterior dislocation may occur because of a hit to the front of the body, forcing the bone out of place toward the back.  Either can be excruciatingly painful, and soft tissue such as ligaments, cartilage, and tendons can be seriously damaged as a result of the dislocation.

Non-Surgical vs. Surgical Correction

A dislocated shoulder requires seek medical attention without delay. Never try to force the joint back in place. Immobilize the arm and consult a shoulder surgeon or emergency doctor immediately. The doctor will perform either a closed or open reduction to correct the issue. The closed reduction method involves a non-surgical fix, manipulating the arm until the ball joint eases back into the socket. This process may require heavy pain medication or muscle relaxers administered to the patient. Closed reduction is more successful if done within 30 minutes of the dislocation, before swelling sets in. The open reduction method is a surgical correction to fix the dislocation. The shoulder surgeon will take the opportunity to inspect the internal shoulder anatomy and correct any tendon or rotator cuff tears at the same time.

Physical Therapy

In either correction method, the shoulder surgeon will have the patient wear a sling for a few weeks after the dislocation has been resolved. Once the joint has been given time to heal, it is important to work on mobility and rebuild strength in the shoulder. This is typically done through physical therapy and is an absolutely critical step in recovery. Once a shoulder joint has been dislocated, repeat dislocations are very likely due to the weakness of the ligaments and tendons holding the shoulder in place.The patient must work to restore strength.

Without proper attention, a shoulder dislocation can cause permanent nerve and tendon damage and lifelong shoulder weakness. If you suffer from an injury of this sort, see a shoulder surgeon immediately for the best outcome.

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