At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.
A dislocated shoulder is a joint dislocation involving the shoulder joint. This joint is among the most mobile in the body, allowing the arm a wide range of motion, but this trait also makes it prone to dislocations, because it is not as stable as joints with more limited movement. In a dislocated shoulder, the ball of the humerus pops out of the socket of the shoulder blade.
Sports injuries are a common cause for a shoulder dislocation. This joint can also be dislocated as the result of a hard blow, a fall, or a seizure. In most cases, people experience an anterior shoulder dislocation, in which the ball of the humerus is pushed in front of the shoulder blade. It is also possible for it to wind up behind the shoulder blade, or even slightly below it. In a variation on a dislocation known as subluxation, the shoulder joint is only partially dislocated.
People usually notice that they have a dislocated shoulder right away. The joint is extremely painful, and often becomes hot and swollen, while the range of motion for the arm is limited, and the arm may be held at a strange angle. An orthopedic doctor can often recognize the injury without the need for x-rays, although an x-ray may be ordered to confirm and to check for signs of other damage.
The treatment for a dislocated shoulder is reduction, in which the humerus is popped back into place. The patient may be given a muscle relaxer and some pain management to make this process more comfortable. Once the joint is back in position, the patient may be given a sling or splint to wear to give the joint some rest. A follow up visit is usually recommended so that a doctor can confirm that the joint healed properly after the dislocation.
In some cases, a dislocated shoulder can become a recurrent problem. This seems to occur naturally for some patients, and in other cases it is the result of damage in the area of the shoulder. Shoulder dislocations can potentially have complications which may cause damage to the joint, and if someone experiences recurrent dislocations, it may be necessary to have surgery to stabilize the joint.
Shoulder dislocations are not the same thing as shoulder separations. In a separation, one or more of the ligaments which connects the collarbone to the joint is severed, causing the collarbone to float in place. This condition requires different treatment.