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Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder Dislocation

The glenohumeral joint, also known as the shoulder is one of the most unstable and mobile joints in the human body. It is made up of three bones, the shoulder blade, the socket for the head of the humerus bone to lay within and the humerus bone. On top this is the clavicle bone also referred to as the collar bone. A shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the humerus comes out of the natural ball and socket joint. That can happen forward, backwards or downwards, although anterior dislocation is the most common (forward).

Symptoms of dislocation 

  • Intense pain 
  • Unable to move the joint through normal ranges 
  • Swelling 
  • Bruising 
  • A visibly deformed or out of alignment shoulder

The symptoms from a dislocated shoulder can vary depending on what structures have be damaged. You may find weakness and/or numbness and tingling into the arm as well as muscle spasm that will increase pain levels. Once a shoulder has suffered a dislocation it naturally become unstable and exercise prescription from a physiotherapist is advised.


It takes a large amount of force to dislocate a shoulder although it is a naturally unstable joint. Extreme rotational forces can cause the head of the humerus to partially dislocate. This is known as a subluxation whereby the shoulder goes through a partial moment of dislocation causing ligaments and other soft tissue structures to be damaged.

Dislocations can occur by: 

Falling – falling is a common cause of shoulder dislocation, falling with an outstretch arm is particularly dangerous for the joint.

Sports related injuries – very common in contact sports such as rugby. This can also include falls when skiing or participating in gymnastics or volleyball.

Trauma not related to sports – direct impact to the shoulder is causative for this type of injury, this can also be if involved in a motor vehicle accident.

Treatment and management 

If you suffer from a shoulder dislocation or what is believed to be a dislocation you should seek medical attention immediately. Before then the aim is to move the shoulder as little as possible to avoid any further complications. On rare occasions the nerves and blood vessels can become damaged in or around the shoulder. If this is to happen then you may need surgery to repair the damaged structures.

After you have be assessed by a medical professional you may be immobilised in a sling for several weeks to allow the area plenty of rest. Following this the sore area should be iced several times a day for fifteen minutes at a time. Once the swelling has reduced your physiotherapist will provide you with some simple strengthening and stretching exercises to prevent the risk of another dislocation but also to reduce your current symptoms.

To aid in the prevention of shoulder dislocation you should

  • Wear protective clothing when necessary
  • Try to take care in avoiding falls 
  • Exercise regularly to maintain good strength and flexibility in all joints 
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