A dislocated shoulder is when your upper arm bone pops out of its socket.
What is shoulder dislocation?
Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that includes 3 bones: your collarbone (clavicle), upper arm bone (humerus) and shoulder blade (scapula). The ball joint of the upper arm bone sits in a shallow socket.
As the socket is so shallow, this makes the shoulder very mobile.
However, your upper arm bone can easily pop out of this socket, so it’s very easy to dislocate your shoulder.
What are the symptoms of shoulder dislocation?
Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder include:
- Difficulty in moving the shoulder joint
- Swelling and bruising
- ‘Bump’ / deformed shoulder
- Weakness, numbness or tingling sensation near the dislocation
What causes shoulder dislocation?
The shoulder is the most common joint of the body to dislocate, because it moves in several ways (upwards and downwards, as well as backwards).
You can either experience a partial dislocation – where your upper arm bone is not completely detached from the socket – or a complete dislocation.
Causes and risk factors of shoulder dislocation include:
- Falls – these can be a result of an accident like falling off a ladder or from sports where you could hurt yourself falling, such as skiing, volleyball or gymnastics
- Injuries – in particular, if you play sports such as football
- Blows to the shoulder – for example, from a car accident
- Your age and gender – men in their teens and 20s that are physically active are more at risk
- Those with joint hypermobility (very mobile joints)
How is shoulder dislocation diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, including details of any prior injuries and how the dislocation might have happened.
They will examine the shoulder. In some instances, your doctor may take an x-ray to try to get a better idea of whether you have dislocated your shoulder or have another shoulder condition, such as a fracture.
How is shoulder dislocation treated?
If you don’t have a fracture, your doctor will give you painkillers and gently move your arm back into its socket, using a process called ‘reduction.’ This should only take a few minutes.
Following reduction, your doctor may also recommend some (or all) of the following:
- Wearing an arm sling
- Anti-inflammatory drugs and medications
- Physical therapy (you will meet with a physical therapist once to learn some gentle movement exercises, and can then continue with the exercises on your own at home to strengthen your shoulder muscles)
If your x-ray reveals you have a fracture rather than a dislocation, you may need further scans and surgery. You will be advised on the surgery that is best for you.
If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.