The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of your arm bone (the “ball”) fits into the groove in your shoulder blade (the “socket”).
A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket.
A partly dislocated shoulder means only part of the ball is out of the socket. This is called a shoulder subluxation.
About Your Injury
You most likely dislocated your shoulder froma sports injury or accident, such as a fall.
You have likely injured (stretched or torn) some of the muscles, tendons (tissues that connect muscle to bone), or ligaments (tissues that connect bone to bone) of the shoulder joint. All of these tissues help keep your arm in place.
Having a dislocated shoulder is very painful, and it will be very hard to move your arm. You may also have some swelling and bruising to your shoulder, and you may have numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm, hand, or fingers.
What to Expect
If this is the first time you dislocated your shoulder, you will probably not need surgery.
In the emergency room, your arm was placed back (relocated or reduced) into your shoulder socket.
You likely received medicine to relax your muscles and block your pain.
Afterward, your arm will be placed in a shoulder immobilizer while it heals.
You will have a greater chance of dislocating your shoulder again. With each injury, it takes less force to do this.
If your shoulder continues to partly or fully dislocate in the future, you may need surgery to repair or tighten the ligaments that hold the bones in your shoulder joint together.
To Relieve Your Symptoms
Put an ice pack on the area right after you injure it.
Do not move your arm.
Keep your arm close to your body.
Do not place rings on your fingers until your provider tells you it is safe to do so.
For pain, you can take a type of medicine called NSAIDs. You do not need a prescription for these.
Some examples of NSAIDs are ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin), naproxen (such as Aleve or Naprosyn).,
If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or bleeding, talk with your health care provider before using these medicines.
Do NOT give aspirin to children.
Avoid taking these medicines for the first 24 hours after your injury, as they may promote bleeding.
You may also take acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) for pain relief. If you have liver disease, talk with your health care provider before using it.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.
Your health care provider will:
Instruct you on when and for how long to remove the splint for short periods of time
Show you some gentle exercises to help keep your shoulder from tightening or freezing up
After your shoulder has healed for 2 - 4 weeks, you will be referred to physical therapy.
A physical therapist will teach you exercises to stretch your shoulder and will make sure you have good shoulder movement.
As you continue to heal, you will learn exercises to increase the strength of your shoulder muscles and ligaments.
Do not return to activities that place too much stress on your shoulder joint without asking your health care provider about them first. These activities include most sports activities using your arms, gardening, heavy lifting, or even reaching above shoulder level.
Most people can return to normal activity in 4 - 6 months.
See a bone doctor (orthopedist) in a week or less after your shoulder joint is put back into place. This doctor will check the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your shoulder.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:
Swelling or pain in your shoulder, arm, or hand that becomes worse
Leggin BG, Gaunt BW, Schaffer MA. Rehabilitation of Shoulder instability. Skirven TM, ed. In: Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity. th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2011:chap 92.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.