Definition

A shoulder dislocation is when the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) moves out of the shoulder socket. There are two types:

  • Partial dislocation—the head of the humerus slips out of the socket for a short time and then snaps back into place
  • Full dislocation—the head of the humerus comes fully out of the socket

Shoulder Dislocation
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Causes

Causes may be:

  • Falling on an outstretched arm
  • A direct blow to the shoulder, such as from a motor vehicle accident
  • Forceful throwing, lifting, or hitting
  • Force applied to an outstretched arm, such as in a football tackle

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of this problem are:

Symptoms

The main problem is severe pain in the shoulder. Other problems may be:

  • Changes in the way the shoulder looks
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Numbness and tingling around the shoulder or in the arm or fingers
  • A shoulder that feels weak and unstable
  • Not being able to move the shoulder

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will be asked how the injury happened. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the shoulder.

Images of the shoulder may be taken. This can be done with:

Treatment

It may take 12 to 16 weeks to heal. The goals of treatment are to put the shoulder back into place and to manage symptoms.

The doctor will move the head of the humerus back into the shoulder socket. Other treatment may include:

  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • Supportive care, such as resting the area and using cold or warm compresses
  • A sling or shoulder immobilizer to keep the shoulder in place as it heals
  • Physical therapy to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion

Surgery is rarely needed when this problem happens the first time. It may be needed in a person whose shoulder repeatedly dislocates.

Prevention

This injury is due to an accident. These are hard to prevent.

RESOURCES:

Ortho Info— American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://www.orthoinfo.org

Sports Med—American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine
http://www.sportsmed.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
http://www.canorth.org

REFERENCES:

Dislocated shoulder. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/dislocated-shoulder. Accessed February 17, 2021.

Patel DN, Zuckerman JD, et al. Luxatio erecta: case series with review of diagnostic and management principles. Am J Orthop (Belle Mead NJ). 2011 Nov;40(11):566-570.

Shoulder dislocation. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/shoulder-dislocation. Accessed February 17, 2021.

Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM  Last Updated: 2/17/2021