A shoulder dislocation is hard to miss. After a traumatic impact to the shoulder, you may find your upper arm has been knocked out of place. Sudden severe pain, swelling, and the inability to move or use your arm or shoulder may occur. Very likely, you will see a visible deformity in the affected shoulder. For example, instead of the typical, rounded shoulder, yours may appear strange, angular, or with a noticeably bony bump at the top.
A hard blow is all it takes: a car accident, significant fall, or sports injury can do it. Shoulder dislocations are especially common among young men who participate in contact sports.
Your Risk of Suffering a Shoulder Dislocation
Dislocating a shoulder is surprisingly easy due to the shape of the joint and the strength of the connective tissue holding it together. Previous shoulder dislocations or injuries can increase your risk.
There is a ball-type shape at the top of your humerus, or upper arm bone. This ball is called the humeral head and it fits into the socket of your shoulder blade, a shallow bowl-like structure called the glenoid cavity. The ball glides around in the cavity, which allows a wide range of arm and shoulder movements. A rubbery cartilage (labrum) around the edges of the cavity helps to keep the ball in place within the shoulder joint. Ligaments, muscles, and tendons all work together to stabilize the shoulder.
Because the ball-and-socket fit is roomy and flexible, injury to any of the surrounding soft tissues makes it incredibly easy for the upper arm ball to pop out of its socket. Also, additional soft tissue damage such as tears in the labrum and damage to the ligaments and glenoid cavity often occur along with a shoulder dislocation.
People with loose ligaments and those who seem to be double-jointed with hyperflexible joints are at increased risk because these issues make their shoulder less stable and prone to dislocation.
Anyone who’s had a previous shoulder dislocation or who has an unresolved soft tissue tear at the joint, such as a SLAP tear, also faces an increased risk of recurrent dislocations. Worse, these future dislocations will require even less force to knock the joint out of place. When the shoulder becomes prone to repeatedly slipping out of place, it is called chronic shoulder instability.
Types of Dislocations
Most often, when we talk about a shoulder dislocation, we’re referring to the main ball-and-socket joint of the shoulder in which the ball atop your upper arm bone glides within the smooth socket of the shoulder blade. This joint – the glenohumeral joint – can dislocate in two distinct ways:
- Partial Shoulder Dislocation. A partial dislocation (subluxation) means the humeral head doesn’t come all the way out of the shoulder socket.
- Complete Shoulder Dislocation. On the other hand, in a complete shoulder dislocation, the ball atop your upper arm comes all the way out of the shoulder socket.
There is another joint in the shoulder that may become dislocated: the acromioclavicular (AC) joint, which is located at the highest part of the shoulder.
Treating Shoulder Dislocations
You should seek immediate medical attention in the event of a shoulder dislocation. Treatment is typically a two- or three-step process:
- Restore joint. Keep your shoulder joint immobile and iced until you can see a doctor, who will manually maneuver your bones back into place with what is called a closed reduction procedure. You should notice immediate relief once the joint is back in place. It is important that only a medical professional do this for you, so additional damage is not done during the resetting.
- During recovery from a shoulder dislocation, you will likely need to wear an immobilization device such as a sling or brace to keep the joint in place. Physical therapy is another important component of post-dislocation rehabilitation. It can help restore the strength, stability, and range of motion of your shoulder joint.
- If you have recurrent dislocations, or if there is damage to nearby tissue, such as a labral tear, rotator cuff tear, or nerve or blood vessel damage, shoulder surgery may be needed to repair the issue for a long-term fix.
Shoulder Dislocation Treatment in Knoxville and Athens, TN
If you’ve ever suffered a shoulder dislocation, make sure you see the right type of medical specialist for the best long-term outcome. Call Dr. David Hovis at The Shoulder Institute at ORTHOKnox at (865) 251-3030 to find out more.