Read below about shoulder dislocation, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your shoulder dislocation from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Shoulder Dislocation Symptoms

It's fourth down with 35 seconds left in your annual family touch-football game. You see the spiraling football coming in your direction, you reach out and make a perfect catch…

But then you trip, fall and land directly on your shoulder. The pain and discomfort come on quickly.

Perhaps with not as much excitement, but many of us have experienced pain in the shoulder upon breaking a fall with an outstretched hand or falling on a hard surface. Sometimes the pain is a sign of an underlying injury to the shoulder joint.

The shoulder is a very mobile joint and vulnerable to dislocation. A dislocation is an injury in which a bone is moved from its joint socket. A dislocated shoulder happens when your upper arm bone pops out of the cup-shaped socket that is part of your shoulder blade.

See this image for a visual representation

It is important to know how to recognize a shoulder dislocation and seek the proper treatment.

Suspect a shoulder dislocation if there is:

  • A visibly deformed or out-of-place shoulder
  • Swelling or bruising in the area of contact
  • Intense pain when the injury occurs
  • Difficulty or inability to move the shoulder and/or arm

Shoulder Dislocation Causes Overview

  • Sports injuries: Shoulder dislocation is a common injury in contact sports, such as football and hockey, and in sports that may involve falls, such as skiing, volleyball or cross-country biking.

  • Trauma (unrelated to sports): A car accident can result in a significant blow to your shoulder that can cause a dislocation.

  • Falls: You may dislocate your shoulder during a fall, such as from a ladder, tripping on an icy sidewalk or falling on an outstretched hand.

4 Potential Shoulder Dislocation Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Recurrent Shoulder Dislocation

    Recurrent subluxation of the shoulder is a condition that results in a persistent partial dislocation of the shoulder joint.

    Chronic, but is treatable

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain from overuse, pain in the front of the shoulder, shoulder dislocation
    Symptoms that always occur with recurrent shoulder dislocation:
    shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder dislocation
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Dislocated Shoulder

    The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of the arm bone fits into the groove in the shoulder blade. A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket.

    3-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation, shoulder injury, shoulder popping
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocated shoulder:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation, constant shoulder pain
    Symptoms that never occur with dislocated shoulder:
    mild shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

    Shoulder Dislocation Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having shoulder dislocation.

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  3. 3.Dislocated Shoulder With Nerve or Artery Damage

    The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of the arm bone fits into the groove in the shoulder blade. A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket. If the dislocation affects blood supply or a nerve, medical attention is extremely important.

    3-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, arm weakness, shoulder pain from an injury, severe shoulder pain, arm numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocated shoulder with nerve or artery damage:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  4. 4.Acromioclavicular (Ac) Shoulder Joint Injury

    The shoulder is made up of three bones - the shoulder blade (scapula), collar bone (clavicle), and arm bone (humerus). The acromioclavicular (AC) joint is a joint that is in the front of the shoulder, where the collar bone and shoulder blade meet. This joint is stabilized by ligaments, which can tear if the two bones are separated from one another. This is most commonly caused by falling on the shoulder.

    Pain goes away in 3 weeks in most cases (6-12 weeks for more severe injuries)

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    constant shoulder pain, pain in one shoulder, shoulder pain from an injury, shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, difficulty moving the shoulder
    Symptoms that always occur with acromioclavicular (ac) shoulder joint injury:
    shoulder pain near the end of the collarbone, constant shoulder pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Shoulder Dislocation Treatments and Relief

Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect a shoulder dislocation and try not to move your arm until you see a medical professional.

A doctor will first attempt to reposition the upper arm back into the shoulder socket. Severe pain may be alleviated with this maneuver. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling you come in with, your doctor may use a muscle relaxant or sedative before manipulating the bones.

After repositioning, you doctor may then proceed with the following shoulder dislocation treatments:

  • Immobilization (Sling): Your doctor may use a sling to keep your shoulder from moving. You may have to wear the sling anywhere from days to weeks depending on the severity of the shoulder dislocation and how soon you presented to the doctor.
  • Physical Therapy or Rehabilitation: After your sling is removed, your doctor may prescribe stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore range of motion, strength and stability to your shoulder.
  • Medication: Your doctor may prescribe medication or a muscle relaxant to help with swelling or pain and keep you comfortable while your shoulder heals.
  • Surgery: If you have a weak shoulder or have a history of repeated shoulder dislocations, you may need surgery to correctly reposition the bones or tighten the ligaments around your shoulder joint.

After your visit to the doctor, there are many things you can do at home to help you're your shoulder dislocation symptoms:

  • Rest: Avoid lifting objects or moving your injured shoulder over your head. Avoid painful movements and give your shoulder the time to heal properly.
  • Apply Ice Then Heat: Putting ice on your injured shoulder will help reduce the swelling and pain. When the swelling and pain have improved, you can apply a heat pack to your shoulder to relax sore or tight muscles. Limit application of ice or heat for only 20 minutes at a time. You can do this every couple of hours for relief.
  • Stretch and Strengthen: As directed by your doctor or physical therapist, do gentle exercises at home to maintain range of motion in your shoulder, prevent stiffness and strengthen your joint.

FAQs About Shoulder Dislocation

Here are some frequently asked questions about shoulder dislocation.

How long do you immobilize a dislocated shoulder?

A dislocated shoulder should be immobilized until it is replaced within its joint. A dislocation may also be accompanied by a fracture, so it is important to keep it immobilized until you are seen by a medical professional. After the shoulder has been reset in the joint, and if there are no other reasons for injury to the shoulder and the patient is under 30 years old, three weeks is sufficient. If the patient is over 30 years old, one week is sufficient. These time frames are general guidelines and can vary from individual to individual.

Can you move your hand if you dislocate your shoulder?

Yes, though it is possible to be unable to move your hand if you have damaged or stunned the nerves that supply your hand. In most cases, however, hand motion and sensation are unaffected by a dislocated shoulder. There is no reason that a dislocated shoulder, in the absence of a secondary injury, should affect the motion of the hand.

What does it mean if your shoulder popped out of its socket then back in?

It may mean that you have a loose joint capsule. For individuals that have loose joints or abnormal cartilage (e.g. Marfan syndrome, Ehlers Danlos syndrome), a dislocated shoulder may be a symptom of the underlying disorder of connective tissue. For young people, the more frequently a dislocation occurs the higher the chance it will reoccur. A quick dislocation and subsequent reduction may be a caused by a loosened joint from multiple dislocations.

What does a dislocated shoulder feel like?

Usually, a dislocated shoulder sits slightly forward, the arm is raised slightly outward and rotated slightly outward. It is often cradled and is either uncomfortable or very painful to move. Individuals describe the jostling of a car as very uncomfortable to painful. Additionally, the normally rounded appearance of the shoulder is flattened out.

Can your shoulder be partially dislocated?

No, a shoulder is usually pushed out of line within the joint completely or retained within the joint. The definition of a dislocation is simply that a joint is not seated correctly within the joint capsule. This means that if a joint is out of line with subsequent joints, it is dislocated. The capsule is ringed by muscle, which exerts force to keep the shoulder in line. If the shoulder moves downward, it can move around these muscles and is often squeezed out of the joint by the tension on the muscles.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Shoulder Dislocation

  • Q.Which of the following describes your physical fitness:
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your shoulder pain?
  • Q.About your [shoulder], do you notice any of the following?
  • Q.Where exactly is your shoulder pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our shoulder dislocation symptom checker to find out more.

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Shoulder Dislocation Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced shoulder dislocation have also experienced:

    • 28% Pain in One Shoulder
    • 8% Grinding Sensation in Shoulder
    • 7% Shoulder Pain
  • People who have experienced shoulder dislocation were most often matched with:

    • 19% Dislocated Shoulder With Nerve or Artery Damage
    • 9% Dislocated Shoulder
    • 5% Recurrent Shoulder Dislocation
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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