Shoulder Instability


Shoulder instability is when the upper-end of the arm bone slides partly or fully out of the shoulder socket.

Shoulder Instability

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This problem is often caused by repetitive trauma and overuse.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in men between the ages of 18 and 25. It is also more common in baseball pitchers.


Problems may be:

  • Pain in the shoulder
  • Pain with throwing motion
  • Shoulder may slip out of place
  • Shoulder or arm weakness
  • Shoulder may feel loose


You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on your shoulder.

Images of your shoulder may be taken. This can be done with x-rays.


It may take 3 months to heal. The goals of treatment are to ease pain and swelling. This may include:

  • Medicine to ease pain and swelling
  • A sling to prevent the shoulder from moving as it heals
  • Exercises to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion


Some people may need surgery when other methods do not help. Surgery may be done to repair torn or stretched ligaments so they can hold the shoulder joint in place.


Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles may help prevent some injuries. This can be done with exercise.


Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation


Chronic shoulder instability. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated December 2013. Accessed December 9, 2019.
Desmeules F, Barry J, et al. Surgical interventions for post-traumatic anterior shoulder instability in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014;(5):CD011092.
Nassiri N, Eliasberg C, et al. Shoulder instability in the overhead athlete: A systematic review comparing arthroscopic and open stabilization procedures. 2015;3(2):suppl2325967115S00154.
Owens BD, Campbell SE, et al. Risk factors for anterior glenohumeral instability. Am J Sports Med. 2014;42(11):2591-2596.
Recurrent subluxation of shoulder. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dyname.... Updated August 21, 2014. Accessed December 9, 2019.
Woodward TW, Best TM. The painful shoulder: part I. Clinical evaluation. Am Fam Physician. 2000 May 15;61(10):3079-3088.
Last reviewed September 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 8/11/2020

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