Introduction to Dislocated Shoulder
Shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball joint at the end of your upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket.
What is a Dislocated Shoulder?
Shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball joint at the end of your upper arm bone pops out of the shoulder socket. This is one of the commonest joints to suffer a dislocation because the ball joint sits in a very shallow socket to allow for increased flexibility and movement of the arm.
It usually takes around 15 weeks to to heal once the ball joint has been put back into the socket. However, this is dependent on whether or not there was significant damage to the surrounding tissues, and there is a risk of a fracture with this type of injury.
This injury is typically the result of direct trauma to the joint from a fall or contact sports, and those with joint hypermobility (highly flexible joints) are at an increased risk of dislocating their shoulder.
What causes a Dislocated Shoulder?
In younger patients the cause is often falling directly onto the shoulder or being hit in the shoulder. Playing contact sports, such rugby or judo, or sports where falls might be more common, such as skiing or volleyball, can increase your risk of suffering from this type of injury. In the elderly, however, it is much more common that a dislocated shoulder is the result of trying to break a fall with outstretched arms.
What are the symptoms of a Dislocated Shoulder?
The most common type of dislocation is when the upper arm bone (humerus) is displaced to the front of the shoulder socket. In cases such as this, the arm will usually be held slightly away from the body with the palm facing up. It is usually very obvious when someone has dislocated their shoulder, and the symptoms include: Significant pain that may be felt along the arm as well as at the joint itself, inability to move the arm as normal and deformation of the joint, with a bump at the front or back depending on the direction in which it has been dislocated.
How is a Dislocated Shoulder treated?
If you are concerned that you have dislocated your shoulder you should visit the nearest accident and emergency department as soon as possible. Refrain from trying to pop your arm back into place yourself, as it may damage the nerves and muscles surround the joint.
When you arrive at hospital you will be examined and sent for an x-ray to make sure you haven’t suffered a fracture alongside the dislocation.
Shoulder reduction, where the arm is gently rotated around the shoulder joint until it pops back in, will usually take place in the emergency department. You will be given some medication to make sure this is as pain free as possible. Most of the time you will be able to leave the hospital the same day, but you may be required to keep your arm supported in a sling for a few weeks after the injury.
Sometimes this is not possible, and if you have a fracture or significant damage to surrounding tissues, surgery may be necessary. Under these circumstances you will require specialist orthopaedic care.
Full recovery usually takes between 12 – 16 weeks, and it’s likely that you will need some time off work while you are resting the joint. Regular follow ups with a specialist orthopaedic doctor or physiotherapist will be necessary to monitor your progress, and they will advise you on when you can start resuming normal activities.
You should consult with your physiotherapist for exercise advice on how to relieve pain, reduce stiffness and build up muscle strength around the joint. It’s recommended that you try to do these exercises in small amounts frequently throughout the day, as opposed to doing them all in one long session. Once you have dislocated your shoulder it becomes more likely that it will happen again, but these exercises can help increase your shoulder stability and minimise the risk of dislocation reoccurring.