Learn more about shoulder dislocation and its symptoms.

Even if you’ve never experienced a dislocated shoulder, you probably have an idea of what the fix looks like. We’ve all seen the dramatic scenes of someone having their arm popped back into place on TV or in movies.

In the real world, it’s not that simple. Here’s your guide to how shoulders become dislocated and what to look for if you think your shoulder is out of place.

What Is a Dislocated Shoulder?

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the human body, a ball and socket that allows the arm to move in different directions. Because they’re so flexible, shoulders are especially prone to injury.

When the ball of the upper arm bone (the humerus) pops out of the rounded socket in the shoulder blade (the scapula), you end up with a dislocated shoulder. The muscles, tendons, and ligaments that surround the joint also may be damaged.

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Is My Shoulder Dislocated?

A dislocated joint is a sudden, traumatic injury, usually caused by a sudden blow or wrenching movement of the shoulder. In other words, you’ll know exactly when it happens. An achy shoulder that gets worse over time is probably not a dislocation. Common causes include:

  • Sports injuries. Contact sports, including football, wrestling, and hockey, are common culprits, along with sports where you have a greater chance of falling, like skiing, horseback riding, and gymnastics.
  • Automobile accidents. A blow to the shoulder in a car wreck can trigger a dislocation.
  • Falls. A hard fall anywhere — at home in your bathtub, in the office break room — could result in a dislocated joint.

Those who play contact sports, especially teenagers, are at greater risk for a dislocated joint. Always use protective gear while playing, and perform exercises aimed at maintaining shoulder strength and flexibility.

What Are Some Dislocated Shoulder Symptoms?

If you have a bone sticking outside of where it’s supposed to be, you’ll notice. Dislocated shoulder symptoms include:

  • Sharp pain the moment the injury happens
  • Swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Bruising
  • Numbness
  • Visible deformity of the shoulder area
  • Inability to move your arm

What to Do If You Think You Have a Dislocated Shoulder

Do not try to fix it yourself. You may cause additional damage, especially if a broken bone is involved.

Keep your upper arm as close to the body as possible and get medical help immediately. In the meantime, put ice on the joint and take ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling.

What Is the Treatment for a Dislocated Shoulder?

Your doctor will examine the joint and possibly order x-rays before gently shifting the bone back into place. You may have to wear a sling or splint to immobilize the joint for several weeks and take anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce swelling.

Once the pain and swelling diminish, you can expect to start rehabilitation exercises to strengthen the joint and bring back full range of motion. Toning and weight training will help make the shoulder stronger and more flexible, and decrease the likelihood of another dislocation. As a last resort, your shoulder may require surgery to fix torn or stretched ligaments that hold the joint in place.

To make an appointment or learn more about shoulder dislocation, contact UPMC Sports Medicine at 1-855-93-SPORT (77678).

About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, UPMC treats a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from basic to complex. We offer treatments for both acute and chronic conditions. Whether you have bone, muscle, or joint pain, we provide access to UPMC’s vast network of services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments. UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside appears on U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the top hospitals in the country for orthopaedics. We strive to use the most advanced treatments. We are leaders in research and clinical trials, seeking even more cutting-edge tools and techniques.