Simply put, shoulder instability is when your shoulder joint becomes prone to slipping out of place. This occurs when ligaments or other soft tissue become torn or damaged, usually as the result of trauma to the shoulder.
Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, in which the “ball” at the top of your upper arm bone (humerus) fits neatly into the “socket” (glenoid cavity) of your shoulder blade. As you move your arm, the ball glides smoothly against the lining of the socket, allowing you a full range of movement in your shoulder.
What keeps the shoulder joint in place is an interconnected network of bones, cartilage, and connective tissue like muscles, tendons, and ligaments. One of the most critical parts of this network is the labrum, the rubbery cartilage surrounding the socket’s rim that acts like a bumper keeping the ball from slipping out of the socket. Most cases of shoulder instability are due to labral tears, such as a SLAP tear.
Causes of Shoulder Instability
A fall, direct blow to the arm, or repetitive strain on the shoulder (which commonly occur when swimming, pitching, etc.) can cause tears or other damage at the joint. These injuries may occur with or without a shoulder dislocation. However, once you experience a dislocated shoulder, you have an increased risk of additional dislocations in the future. Sports injuries and car accidents are two common reasons for the type of trauma that can lead to shoulder instability.
In some cases, you may have naturally loose shoulder ligaments. This makes your shoulder joint less stable, even without any trauma to it. People who are considered “double-jointed” may have loose ligaments at the shoulder joint that make it unstable.
How to Tell If Your Shoulder Joint Is Unstable
Signs and symptoms of shoulder instability include:
- Feeling as if your shoulder easily “gives way” – especially during overhead arm movements
- Pain when your shoulder gives way
- Decreased range of motion in the shoulder
- Inflammation or bruising of the shoulder
- Repeated shoulder dislocations
Breaking the Cycle of Shoulder Instability & Dislocation
Once there is tissue damage at the shoulder joint, resulting in shoulder instability, dislocation is not far behind. Whether the instability begins with a dislocation or not, the looseness of the joint connection leaves you susceptible to future partial or full shoulder dislocations. And, each time that happens, additional tissue damage occurs, which continues to worsen the situation.
Diagnosing & Treating Shoulder Instability
A minor shoulder injury may heal on its own with time and rest. However, more significant injuries require medical intervention, especially if it has led to chronic shoulder instability and/or shoulder dislocations.
A physical exam and X-rays are generally all that is needed to determine if you have shoulder instability.
Treatment usually beings with conservative measures, like rest, immobilization, anti-inflammatories, and physical therapy, including muscle-strengthening exercises that target the rotator cuff to help increase stability at the joint.
If surgery is necessary, minimally invasive arthroscopic procedures allow your orthopedic shoulder specialist to assess the condition of your shoulder joint and perform stabilizing procedures, depending on the extent of your injury. Surgical options involve repairing, replacing, or tightening damaged tissue at the joint. The most common of these procedures is Bankart reconstruction to repair the labrum and reattach ligaments to bone.
Shoulder Instability Relief in Knoxville and Athens, TN
Shoulder instability leaves you at an increased risk of future shoulder dislocations. Guard against future injury by consulting an orthopedic shoulder specialist who can recommend a variety of treatment options, depending on the extent of your shoulder injury and your treatment goals.
Call board-certified, fellowship-trained shoulder specialist Dr. David Hovis at The Shoulder Institute at ORTHOKnox at (865) 251-3030 to get the care you need for shoulder instability.