Shoulder Dislocations: Symptoms and Treatments


Although the shoulder has the most range of motion of any joint in the body, it is also prone to instability. Its instability is linked to its range of motion and if the joint becomes dislocated it can easily happen again. A shoulder dislocation is usually the result of trauma but it can occur from overuse of the joint as the ligaments and tendons become weaker, usually due to age.

Symptoms of a Shoulder Dislocation

When a younger person experiences a dislocated shoulder, it is usually the result of trauma from an accident such as a fall or from participating in sports like football, volleyball, or basketball. In older people, most dislocations occur due to a fall in which they’ve tried to catch themselves with their hand or fell directly onto the shoulder. It can also occur because the supporting tissues of the shoulder have weakened due to the person’s age.

Even though it can be painfully obvious that your shoulder is dislocated, here are some important shoulder dislocation symptoms and treatments for the injury. The most common and obvious symptom of a dislocation is pain which worsens when you try to move the injured shoulder. Other symptoms include:

  • Squared off appearance of the shoulder.
  • A possible bulge at the front of the shoulder.
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, weakness, and sweating due to the pain.

After a dislocation has occurred, the injured arm should be supported by placing it into a sling to keep the shoulder from hanging and applying ice to the area. The patient should not be given any liquids or food in case he or she needs to be given a sedative when the shoulder is reduced.

Treatment for Shoulder Dislocations

The goal of treating a shoulder dislocation is to reduce it and return the head of the arm bone, also known as the humeral, into the shoulder socket. Ideally, this is done with a minimum amount of anesthesia in a closed reduction. A closed reduction is one that does not require surgery, whereas an open reduction is a surgical procedure.

A closed reduction can be done by carefully rotating the shoulder blade to get the humeral head to dislodge, which will cause a spontaneous reduction. Another technique is to rotate the shoulder by placing the elbow at a 90-degree angle or lifting the arm above the head to allow a spontaneous reduction. Other techniques involve using a bedsheet or weights to create traction to help pull the humeral into the shoulder socket.

An open reduction, which is surgery, is only done when a closed reduction has failed because there is a piece of broken bone, a tendon, or a ligament blocking the joint and not allowing the humeral to go into the socket. Depending on the patient’s age, the shoulder will be immobilized after a reduction anywhere from one to three weeks. This helps to prevent the shoulder from becoming “frozen” due to the joint not being used. Physical therapy will usually be prescribed to help the patient regain full use of the joint.