A dislocated shoulder occurs when the bone in your upper arm is dislodged from the socket it is meant to rest in. The shoulder is the body’s most flexible and mobile joint, so dislocated shoulders happen more frequently than dislocations of any other joint in the body. Because of this, dislocated shoulder injuries are prone to recurring after the initial dislocation.
There are two types of dislocated shoulder injury. Most injuries are in the anterior dislocation category, with the arm being moved forward out of the shoulder socket. This form of dislocation makes up about 97% of all shoulder dislocation injuries. The other form is called a posterior dislocation, where the bone is forced backward out of the socket.
A similar injury is called a separated shoulder, but this injury doesn’t affect the shoulder joint. It is a tear to the ligaments around the shoulder joint, but the bone remains in place.
Dislocated Shoulder Symptoms
Sometimes, this injury is easy to diagnose simply by looking at the patient – in some circumstances, the arm is visibly out of place, or your shoulder can seem disfigured. This is not always the case, however. The symptoms that almost all patients with this condition experience are intense pain and inability to move the shoulder. You may also notice swelling or bruising in the shoulder area, or you may have heard a popping sound at the time of impact.
You should be concerned if you notice a weak pulse in the injured arm or your fingers become numb and appear bloodless. This could be a sign of nerve damage and should be taken care of immediately.
Dislocated Shoulder Causes
Dislocated shoulders are usually due to an injury sustained during some form of physical trauma to the shoulder area. One of the most common reasons for this kind of trauma is a fall, especially when you attempt to catch a fall using your arm. A sudden, hard blow to the arm will force your shoulder back and cause it to pop out of its socket.
Athletes are most at risk for sustaining a dislocated shoulder. This is especially true for those that participate in contact sports, like rugby or American football, or sports that rely heavily on shoulder use, like skiing and rock climbing. Males between the ages of 20 and 29 are most at risk for shoulder dislocation, and especially for recurring incidences of shoulder dislocation after the initial injury.
Dislocated Shoulder Treatment
One of the best things you can do to care for yourself at home is to ice your shoulder. This will help with the swelling. The less swollen the tissues around your shoulder are, the less pain you are likely to experience. For the first 2-3 days after your injury, be sure to ice your shoulder for up to thirty minutes at a time, every 3-4 hours.
As soon as you suspect a dislocated shoulder, It is important to seek medical attention right away because the longer your shoulder is out of joint, the more swollen the tissues will become. If the tissues are too swollen, it will be much more difficult to reposition the shoulder. You will need a doctor to move the shoulder back into the correct position. This will help relieve some, but not all, of the pain.
This procedure is called closed reduction. The doctor will administer anesthesia to the affected area and then will manually reposition the humerus bone where it is supposed to be in its socket.
Using a store-bought sling to help you stabilize the shoulder will help your recovery go by faster. Most doctors suggest using the sling every day for up to six weeks to prevent a shoulder dislocation injury from recurring.
You can use over-the-counter painkillers, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen or naproxen, found in brand names like Aleve. It is important to remember, however, that use of these medications comes with side effects, including the formation of ulcers within the digestive tract. Long-term use is not advised.
When using a sling to immobilize your arm, your muscles will weaken and stiffen over time. To help your body remember how to use the muscles correctly. Strengthening the muscles around your joint will help to prevent recurring shoulder injuries as well. Physical therapy can help create more flexibility and range of motion in your shoulder so that it is less likely to get hurt even if you fall again.
Your physical therapist will begin by having a conversation with you to learn about your daily needs and the way that the pain is impacting your everyday life. They will create a treatment plan including stretches and strengthening exercises that you will be expected to follow through with at home. Physical therapy could last up to six weeks or more, depending on your age, activity level, the severity of the injury, and other factors.
As a last resort option, surgery in the case of dislocated shoulders is usually due to tendons that have been stretched or torn too much to properly keep the bone in its place. You may have also torn your labrum during your injury. The labrum is a layer of cartilage that stabilizes the humerus within the socket. After surgery, you will take the same care as you would have otherwise: icing your shoulder, using a sling, and medicating with over-the-counter painkillers.
Dislocated Shoulder Recovery
Recovery time for a dislocated shoulder depends on the severity of the injury, as well as the course of treatment you decide on with your doctor. Most people take somewhere between six weeks and three months to fully recover from a dislocated shoulder. It is important to follow your treatment plan as prescribed. Failing to do so could make you vulnerable to dislocating your shoulder again. It will also make you more likely to experience a rotator cuff injury later on.