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Shoulder Dislocations & Instability

What Are Shoulder Dislocations & Instability?

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the shoulder joint slips out of place. The most commonly dislocated joint, the shoulder, is a ball-and-socket joint. The ball of the humerus (the long, upper arm bone) meets the glenoid, which is the socket of the shoulder. These two pieces fit together like a golf ball sits on a tee, which makes it easier for the shoulder to become unstable or dislocated.

Common causes of a shoulder dislocation include:

  • Chronic instability in the shoulder joint

  • Sudden injury, such as a collision in sports, a fall or a car accident

  • Overuse from sports or work


Symptoms of a shoulder dislocation include:

  • Pain – Sudden pain is felt at the shoulder after it slips out of place.

  • Limited range of motion – You may not be able to move the arm or shoulder after it is dislocated.

  • Joint is visibly out of place – The shoulder joint may be visibly different in appearance with the head of the humerus prominent in front of the arm or near armpit.

  • Loose joint – An unstable shoulder joint may feel like it is constantly slipping out of place or like it’s loosely resting in the joint. Individuals with an unstable shoulder joint also often describe a feeling as though their arm just hangs loosely by their side.

Treatment Options

A dislocated shoulder requires immediate medical attention if it does not reduce or go back down into place on its own. A physician will exam the injury and assist in reducing the shoulder back into place to avoid neurological injury. Muscle spasms and contracture around the joint may make this difficult and on occasion sedation is required to reduce the joint.

Chronic instability requires an on-going treatment plan to help strengthen the dynamic shoulder stabilizers — the muscles around the shoulder and shoulder blades, and reduce the risk of dislocation. Your orthopedic provider will work closely with you to create a treatment plan that addresses your injury and helps you reach your goal. Treatment options include:

  • Rest – Modifying daily activities can help prevent the joint from slipping out of place.

  • Anti-inflammatory medicine – Non-steroid medication, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can reduce pain and swelling at the shoulder joint.

  • Physical therapy – A physical therapist will work on exercises designed to assist in stabilization of the shoulder joint.

  • Surgery – If a conservative approach doesn’t help manage your symptoms, your provider may recommend surgery to repair damaged capsule, ligaments and labrum of the shoulder.

The surgeons at Temple Health offer the latest advances in procedures, including minimally invasive approaches. Your surgeon will discuss which surgery is right for you, helping you find treatment that helps you most.

Ready for an Appointment?

If you're experiencing signs or symptoms of a shoulder dislocation or instability, schedule an appointment or call 800-TEMPLE-MED (800-836-7536) today.

Learn more about our doctors and care team who diagnose and treat shoulder dislocations and instability.