Dislocated Shoulder

When your shoulder joint moves out of place, it becomes quite painful, especially if it is actually dislocated. A dislocated shoulder occurs when the upper part of your arm bone feels like it pops out of the cup-shaped socket that is surrounded by the shoulder blade. As the most mobile joint, the shoulder is more likely to be dislocated than any other bone.

After a shoulder injury, seek medical attention soon if you believe it may be a dislocated shoulder. Usually, with proper treatment and care, full use of the shoulder returns within a few weeks. Sadly, after a shoulder dislocation occurs, you become more susceptible to it in the future.

What Happens When You Dislocate Your Shoulder?

Many wonder what actually happen when you dislocate your shoulder, and how they will know when it does. Since a shoulder dislocation occurs when a bone pops out of another bone, it will be quite painful. The shoulder will take on a square, rather than round, appearance and you will be unable to move the arm.

What to Do

If it appears that you have a dislocated shoulder, seek medical attention as soon as possible. As you are waiting for the doctor or physician to see, be sure that you do not move the joint as any movement may worsen the injury and lengthen your recovery time. Furthermore, have someone hold ice over the shoulder blade (on the upper left or right edge of your back) to reduce swelling from blood and fluids as well as to alleviate the pain.

What Causes Dislocated Shoulder?

The shoulder joint is easily dislocated because it can move in almost every direction – meaning it can also be dislocated by movement in any direction. Generally, a dislocated shoulder is through the front, but partial dislocations can occur in any of the directions. For a dislocation to occur, it will take a relatively strong force that pulls the bones out of place or extreme rotation of the shoulder joint. The following are the most common causes of a dislocated shoulder:

  • Injuries during sportsMany sports can be dangerous due to their risk of heavy impact with another player. If hit in the right spot, these impacts can cause shoulder dislocations, especially during football, hockey, skiing, or gymnastics.
  • Any trauma not from sportsSports activities are not the only time you risk a heavy impact – hard blows during an accident or even standing in the way of a door opened too roughly may lead to an injury.
  • Falls: Slipping on the ice and falling may lead to a shoulder dislocation, just as a fall on a flat surface or down the set of stairs may cause such an injury.

How Is Dislocated Shoulder Treated?

The following treatments are recommended in the days and months following a dislocated shoulder injury:

  • The hardest treatment for a dislocated shoulder is popping the shoulder joint back into place. This process will be painful, but the pain should quickly subside to a dull throb and allow the doctor to assess what other steps will be needed for a full recovery.
  • One of the first treatments for a dislocated shoulder, even before seeing a doctor, is to ice the area for several days. Ice the area for at least 30 minutes with approximately 3-4 hours in between.
  • To prevent further damage to the shoulder joint, use a sling to inhibit mobility and prevent you from using that arm.
  • Use a painkiller, such as ibuprofen, to reduce the pain and swelling. These should not be used for an extended period of time, unless prescribed by a doctor, due to the side effects of bleeding and ulcers.
  • Begin using specifics strength training and stretching exercises to improve your shoulder’s mobility and discourage any additional dislocated shoulders.
  • Some dislocated shoulder injuries may require surgery to repair a ligament or to reposition the bones. The severity will determine the length of your recovery, which is generally between 3 weeks to 3 months.

Arm and Shoulder Exercises

In the weeks immediately following the injury, you will want to refrain from using the injured arm and allow it to heal for at least two to three weeks, unless otherwise specified by a doctor. This should be enough time for the soft tissue to begin to repair, at which point a physiotherapist will work with you and your specific injury to determine which exercises would be best. These exercises will be designed to relieve the pain, return the shoulder muscles’ strength, and reduce the stiffness from the muscles not being used for a while.

NOTE: Keep in mind that the above treatments should help, but may not completely heal your shoulder. For some, healing may only take a few weeks and for others, healing may take several months until they have regained full strength. Most can resume normal daily activities after two weeks, but any heavy lifting or impact sports should be avoided for one to six months, depending on what the orthopedic surgeon advises.

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