Shoulder dislocation

Shoulder dislocation is a condition where the upper arm pops out of the shoulder joint.

What is a shoulder dislocation?

A shoulder dislocation is when the ‘ball’ of the shoulder pops out of the socket. The shoulder is very mobile and has a broad range of movement due to having a shallow socket, but this also makes it more susceptible to being dislocated.

A shoulder dislocation can be due to falling heavily on to your arm. It is most common in those who take part in contact sports like rugby or wrestling.

If you are highly flexible or hypermobile you may be more prone to shoulder dislocations.

It can also occur if the connecting tissues supporting the shoulder joint becomes overstretched or torn from repetitive strains.

If you have a shoulder dislocation, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Extreme pain
  • Difficulty moving your arm
  • Bruising or swelling
  • Your shoulder will look misshapen
  • Numbness or tingling in the affected area.

Diagnosing shoulder dislocation

To determine if you have a shoulder dislocation, your orthopaedic consultant will take a detailed history and examine you. You may also require an X-ray to confirm the dislocation and see if you have a fracture.

Shoulder dislocation treatment

If you have a shoulder dislocation, you will need a ‘reduction’ - this is a quick and simple procedure where the arm is gently moved back into the shoulder joint. This is usually done with painkillers and light sedation. Occasionally, a general anaesthetic will be required.

Once your arm has been re-positioned, you may have another X-ray to check shoulder joint is correctly aligned.

If you had torn ligaments, tendons or damaged tissue when you dislocated your shoulder, you may need surgery to repair the damage and help prevent further dislocations.

After the reduction, you will need to wear a sling for a few days, and it is recommend that you continue with pain relief medication.

Your orthopaedic consultant will recommend some exercises to help keep your shoulder mobile. In addition, you may require physiotherapy to help strengthen your shoulder.

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