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Shouldering Your Dislocation Pain

February 23, 2023

Did you know that the shoulder is the body’s most flexible and mobile joint? With the ability to turn in many directions, this also makes the shoulder easy to dislocate or experience other injury. Since we rely so heavily on our shoulders to accomplish daily activities, it is important to seek help right away if you suspect something isn’t feeling right. 


What is a Dislocated Shoulder? 


A dislocation in your shoulder is when the head of the upper arm bone, called the humerus, is either completely or partially out of the socket, called the glenoid.

As previously mentioned, the shoulder has the ability to turn in many directions, so you could experience a dislocation forward, backward, or downward. 

A strong force, such as a sudden blow or hit, can pull the bones out of place. Movements such as twisting of the joint can also pop the ball of the upper arm bone out of the socket. Common causes include sports injuries, falls, or other trauma such as your shoulder being hit during a car accident. 

Common Symptoms of Dislocation 

There are various signs and symptoms that you have dislocated your shoulder including: 

  • Intense pain

  • Visibly out-of-place or deformed shoulder

  • Swelling or bruising

  • Being unable to move the joint

  • Weakness or numbness in the neck or down the arm


Complications of a Dislocated Shoulder

If your shoulder has been dislocated, the tissue that joins the bones, called ligaments, can be stretched or torn. The muscles and tendons that reinforce the shoulder joint could also tear. Nerve or blood vessel damage in or around the shoulder joint could also occur. These complications could require surgery to repair. 

A dislocated shoulder, especially if the injury is severe, can also make you more prone to repeat dislocations or injury. 


When to See a Doctor

Always! If you suspect your shoulder is dislocated, seek medical help right away. While you are waiting for care, do not move the joint or try to force it back into place. Splint or sling the shoulder in the position it is in and apply ice to help reduce pain and swelling. 



If you health care provider diagnoses you with a dislocated shoulder, treatments may include: 

  • Closed reduction - a procedure where gentle maneuvers help move the shoulder back into the correct position. If you are experiencing a lot of pain, a muscle relaxant or sedative may be given before attempting any movement. When the shoulder bones are back in place, most patients find pain improves almost immediately. 

  • Immobilization - after closed reduction, wearing a splint or sling for a few weeks can help the shoulder heal. 

  • Surgery - often helpful for those with weak joints or ligaments who have experienced multiple dislocations or in the rare case of damaged nerves or blood vessels. Surgery may also reduce the risk of re-injury in athletes. 

  • Medication - a pain reliever or muscle relaxant might be prescribed to provide comfort as the shoulder heals. 

  • Rehabilitation - helps to restore your range of motion, strength, and stability. 


Often, a simple shoulder dislocation without any complications improves over a few weeks. However, resuming activity too soon before pain is gone and strength regained may cause re-injury.  


When You Get Home 

To ease discomfort and help with healing once you get home, we recommend resting the shoulder, applying ice to reduce inflammation, and taking recommended pain relievers. After a couple days, your doctor might have you do some gentle exercises to maintain the range of motion in the shoulder. 



To prevent yourself from dislocating a shoulder, it is important to wear protective gear when playing contact sports. Most of our shoulder dislocation patients are young athletes. 

You should also take care to avoid falls and exercise regularly to maintain strength and flexibility in your joints and muscles. Doing strength and stability exercises is especially important if you have already had a dislocated shoulder in order to avoid a recurrence. 


Our Team at Orthopaedic Associates

Our shoulder specialists are trained in a variety of shoulder conditions and treatments. If you dislocate your shoulder, our team of surgeons and therapists will work together with you to develop a personalized plan of care that is suited to your recovery goals. Request an appointment: https://www.oaduluth.com/contact.php