The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint that is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone, shoulder blade and collarbone. They work hand in hand to help you lift your arm, rotate it and reach for objects over your head. However, this great range of motion can sometimes result in shoulder instability too. 

If you suspect you are suffering from shoulder instability but are unsure, this article might help you get a clearer idea. We will be sharing more about what shoulder instability is, the causes and treatments available when you visit an orthopaedic surgeon in Singapore – read on to find out more. 

What is shoulder instability?

It occurs when the head of the upper arm bone, also known as the humerus, gets forced out of the shoulder socket usually as a result of an acute injury like a fall or accident. This dislocation then causes the ligaments, tendons and muscles around the shoulder to become loose or torn, contributing to shoulder instability. 

The causes

One of the most common causes of shoulder instability is dislocation after sustaining trauma to the area such as a direct blow to the shoulder or a sudden jerk of the arm. The socket bone and ligaments are often injured while a shoulder labral tear, called Bankart lesion, may also occur. A Bankart lesion affects the cartilage that lines the socket of the shoulder joint which helps to keep the ball of the humerus in place in the socket. When that happens, subsequent dislocations may continue to occur, resulting in a feeling of instability in the shoulder. 

Another common cause of shoulder instability is hyperlaxity which occurs in people who have never had a dislocation. This happens when the ligaments in your shoulder are too loose and flexible, making it difficult for the shoulder joint to stay in place. The looseness is usually a result of repetitive overhead motion when swimming and playing tennis, for example. 

Symptoms to look out for

The symptoms of shoulder instability are obvious, so if you are experiencing any of them, it is advisable to visit an orthopaedic surgeon early to prevent your condition from worsening. 

  • Repeated shoulder dislocations
  • Instances of the shoulder giving out
  • A sensation of the shoulder feeling loose
  • Pain caused by a shoulder injury

An orthopaedic surgeon examining the shoulder

Treatment options for shoulder instability

An orthopaedic surgeon will typically suggest non-surgical treatment methods first and they include making activity modifications, taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, and going through physical therapy. 

However, if these conservative treatments do not relieve pain and improve instability, then the orthopaedic surgeon may recommend surgery. Surgery is usually offered to patients who have had repeated dislocations so as to repair torn or stretched ligaments. 

There are two types of surgical options available: 

  • Arthroscopy 

Performed using a small camera that is inserted into the joint through small incisions, arthroscopy is minimally invasive and can be done as a same-day or outpatient procedure. This method repairs the soft tissues in the shoulder without the need to make large incisions, allowing you to heal quicker and making the recovery period easier.

  • Open surgery 

On the other hand, open surgery involves making an incision over the shoulder, allowing the surgeon to see the inside of the joint and repair it under direct visualisation.

Seek medical attention early

Seek early medical intervention for shoulder instability so that you can regain your quality of life and get back to being active. 

Our orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Poh Seng Yew, is well-versed in a variety of orthopaedic conditions including shoulder instability. Speak with him to find out more about your condition and the treatments available specific to your needs. 

Book an appointment today!