Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder dislocation is a condition in which the upper arm bone (humerus) pops out of its socket in the shoulder blade (scapula). It often occurs due to a traumatic injury, such as a fall or a strong force applied to the shoulder. Individuals participating in contact sports, such as football or rugby, are particularly prone to shoulder dislocations. It can also happen to people with unstable shoulder joints or a history of previous dislocations.
There are different types of shoulder dislocations, including anterior dislocation (where the humerus moves forward), posterior dislocation (where the humerus moves backwards), and inferior dislocation (where the humerus moves downward). When an individual suffers from a dislocated shoulder, it can lead to excruciating pain, swelling, and restricted mobility in the affected arm. Seeking prompt medical attention is crucial to accurately diagnose the dislocation and initiate appropriate treatment.

A man with a frozen shoulder

Some of the most noticeable symptoms of a dislocated shoulder include intense pain in the shoulder region, often accompanied by swelling and bruising. You may experience limited mobility and difficulty in moving your arm. A visible deformity or an abnormal appearance of the shoulder may also be present, indicating the dislocation. Another common symptom is a feeling of the shoulder being out of place or feeling unstable. Numbness or tingling sensations may also be felt due to potential nerve involvement.

Causes and Risk Factors

Shoulder dislocation can occur due to various causes, most commonly as a result of a traumatic injury. These injuries often involve a significant force or impact to the shoulder joint, leading to the displacement of the humerus from its socket. Some common causes and risk factors include:

  • Sports Injuries: Participating in high-impact sports like football, basketball, rugby, or wrestling increases the risk of shoulder dislocation. Falls, collisions, or direct blows to the shoulder can forcefully push the humerus out of place.
  • Accidents: Motor vehicle accidents or other types of accidents that result in sudden and forceful movements of the arm can lead to shoulder dislocation. For example, bracing against the impact during a car crash can cause the shoulder to dislocate.
  • Repetitive Overuse: Repeated overhead movements, such as those performed in throwing sports like baseball or swimming, can strain the shoulder joint over time. This can weaken the supporting structures and increase the likelihood of a dislocation.
  • Congenital Factors: Some individuals may have naturally loose or unstable shoulder joints, making them more susceptible to dislocations. This can be due to a genetic predisposition or developmental abnormalities in the joint structure.
  • Prior Dislocations: Once a shoulder has been dislocated, the risk of future dislocations increases. The ligaments, tendons, and muscles surrounding the joint may be weakened or stretched, making it easier for subsequent dislocations to occur.

It is important to note that shoulder dislocation can happen to anyone, regardless of age or fitness level.


Diagnosing a dislocated shoulder typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and imaging studies. A healthcare professional will inquire about the circumstances surrounding the injury and the symptoms experienced. They will also assess the range of motion, check for deformities, and palpate the shoulder area to identify tenderness and swelling during the physical examination.
To confirm the dislocation and examine any associated fractures, X-rays are commonly performed. In some cases, additional imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans may be ordered to evaluate the extent of soft tissue damage. Through a comprehensive evaluation, healthcare providers can accurately diagnose your shoulder dislocation and determine the appropriate course of treatment.



The treatment for shoulder dislocation aims to reduce the dislocated joint and provide support to promote healing. The specific approach may vary depending on the severity and type of dislocation. Common treatment options include:

  • Closed Reduction: A healthcare professional will manipulate the dislocated shoulder joint to guide the humerus back into its socket. This is often performed under anaesthesia to manage pain and relax the muscles.
  • Immobilisation: After reduction, the shoulder is typically immobilised using a sling, brace, or immobiliser to prevent further movement and support the joint during the healing process. The duration of this treatment varies based on your condition.
  • Rehabilitation Exercises: Once the initial healing phase is complete, a structured rehabilitation programme will be initiated. This includes exercises to improve the range of motion, strengthen the muscles surrounding the shoulder, and enhance joint stability. Physical therapy is often recommended to guide the rehabilitation process.
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be prescribed to manage pain and reduce inflammation.
  • Surgical Intervention: In some cases, especially for recurrent or complex dislocations, surgery may be necessary. Surgical options include repairing damaged ligaments or tendons, tightening loose joint capsules, or performing a stabilising procedure like shoulder arthroscopy or open surgery.



Frequently Asked Question (FAQ)


1) Can a shoulder dislocation heal on its own without medical intervention?

While it is possible for shoulder dislocation to reduce spontaneously, seeking medical attention is strongly recommended. Without proper treatment, there is a higher risk of recurrent dislocations, instability, and long-term complications. Medical professionals can accurately assess the injury, ensure the joint is properly reduced, and provide appropriate support and rehabilitation guidance for optimal healing and prevention of future dislocations.

2) How long does the recovery process take after a shoulder dislocation?

The recovery time for a shoulder dislocation can vary depending on factors such as the severity of the injury, individual healing abilities, and adherence to rehabilitation protocols. Generally, the initial healing phase may take a few weeks, during which the shoulder is immobilised. After that, a structured rehabilitation programme is initiated, typically lasting several months to restore strength, range of motion, and joint stability. It’s important to follow the guidance of healthcare professionals and actively participate in rehabilitation for a successful recovery.

3) Can shoulder dislocations be prevented?
While it may not be possible to completely prevent shoulder dislocations, certain precautions can help reduce the risk. These include maintaining good shoulder strength and flexibility through regular exercise, using proper techniques during sports or physical activities, wearing appropriate protective gear, and avoiding situations that put excessive stress on the shoulder joint. Those with a history of dislocations or known shoulder instability may also benefit from specific strengthening exercises and guidance from healthcare professionals to minimise the likelihood of future dislocations.