Shoulder Subluxation

Shoulder subluxation, also called a partial shoulder dislocation, occurs when the ball of the upper arm bone (the humerus) comes part of the way out of the shoulder socket. It’s not the same as a shoulder dislocation, which happens when the upper bone completely leaves the socket — although the two injuries can have similar symptoms.

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How Does Shoulder Subluxation Happen?

The force put on the joint from a fall — or even just the wear and tear of daily activity — can partially dislocate the humerus. If you have joint instability from a previous dislocation or overuse from certain sports, such as tennis or baseball, your risk of subluxation is higher because your muscles, ligaments, and tendons aren’t holding the bones firmly place.

What Are Symptoms of Subluxation?

A partial shoulder dislocation may cause pain, joint instability, arm weakness, numbness or tingling down your arm, and swelling. When the humerus moves out of place, it can damage muscles, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels in the shoulder joint. Since the symptoms are similar to those of a full dislocation, it’s best to get the injury checked out by a doctor.

How Is Subluxation Treated?

In minor cases, the shoulder bone may move back into place on its own. However, don’t try to force the shoulder back into position yourself; it could cause more damage. At home, you can reduce the pain and swelling by icing your shoulder. Your doctor will perform an x-ray to determine how to reposition the shoulder, likely followed by a closed reduction, or moving the bone back into place without surgery.

After the shoulder is back in the right spot, keep it as still as possible for up to two weeks. Your doctor may also recommend taking over-the-counter pain medicine as your shoulder heals. Your doctor will monitor your progress and give you a detailed plan for when and how much you can move the shoulder and what exercises to perform. Allowing your shoulder to heal fully helps prevent future injuries. Repeated dislocations can increase the chances of hurting your shoulder again.

For more information or to make an appointment for a shoulder evaluation with one of our specialists, contact UPMC Orthopedic Care at 1-866-987-6784.