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Shoulder Dislocation: How It Happens and What to Do if it Happens to You

Shoulder Dislocation: How It Happens and What to Do if it Happens to You

The shoulder is an incredibly mobile joint, which makes lifting, reaching, throwing, and rotating possible. This mobility also makes the shoulder incredibly vulnerable to dislocation.

The shoulder is the most dislocated joint. Dislocation can cause intense pain and loss of mobility in the joint.

If you experience signs of a shoulder dislocation, seek medical care right away. Our team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists welcomes you for this immediate and follow-up care. If dislocation happens after hours, head to urgent care or the emergency room.

Read on to learn more about shoulder dislocations and your long-term shoulder health.

How the shoulder dislocates

Dislocation may be partial or complete. It occurs when the head of the arm bone, or humerus, pops out of the shoulder socket, or glenoid. A partial dislocation means the head of the bone is only partly out of the socket; a complete dislocation means the bone is entirely out.

About 97% of shoulder dislocations happen anteriorly, but it’s also possible to dislocate your shoulder to the posterior, inferior, superior, and intrathoracic. 

It requires a pretty strong force to dislocate the shoulder. A sudden blow during a sports tackle, trauma like a car accident, or a serious fall can cause dislocation. Extreme twisting can also lead to dislocation. 

Anyone can dislocate their shoulder, but the most commonly affected are people in their teens and 20s who play contact sports.

Signs of a shoulder dislocation

Suspect that your shoulder is dislocated if you experience:

Your shoulder may also appear visibly out of place. 

Take immediate action

Seek medical help right away if you have a shoulder dislocation. We’re here to help, but if you dislocate your shoulder outside of normal office hours, don’t wait for care. Call 911 or head to urgent care immediately.

Whatever you do, don’t try to fix it yourself. This can damage blood vessels, ligaments, nerves, and muscles. 

Keep the arm still and close to your body. While you wait for treatment, apply an ice pack to reduce pain and ease swelling. 

You can take over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, acetaminophen, or naproxen to ease discomfort. 

Treatment for a dislocated shoulder

We may do something called closed reduction, which involves applying gentle maneuvers to move your shoulder back into its correct position. We sedate you or offer a muscle relaxer for this painful process. Once your shoulder returns to its normal position, pain resolves quickly. 

After a closed reduction, you keep your arm in a sling for a few weeks to immobilize the shoulder. Pain medications and physical therapy help you regain full function in a relatively short time. 

For patients with a weak shoulder or weak ligaments, shoulder surgery may be necessary. Before recommending surgery, we offer physical therapy to help strengthen and rehabilitate the joint. It’s only when these fail that we recommend more invasive treatments.

If you repeatedly dislocate your shoulder, you may also be a candidate for surgery. Surgery helps reduce the risk of reinjury. 

Patients who have concerns about their shoulder stability should contact us at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists. Call our Bethesda, Rockville, or Germantown, Maryland, office at 301-515-0900 or set up an appointment here to get a comprehensive evaluation.

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