What To Do If You Suspect You’ve Dislocated Your Shoulder

If you think about all the different ways your shoulder can move, you’ll realize why it’s the most mobile joint in your body, such as giving your arm a huge range of motion. But, all that mobility makes your shoulder more prone to injury.

One of the most common shoulder injuries is a dislocation. Some activities, such as contact sports, make you more vulnerable to a shoulder injury. But it’s possible for anyone, even people who don’t play sports, to dislocate their shoulder.

Landing on your shoulder, especially on a hard surface, or tripping while going down the stairs and catching yourself with the handrail are examples of ways you could end up with a dislocated shoulder. Really, anyone at any age and activity level is susceptible to this injury because of the way your shoulder joint works. 

The structure of your shoulder joint

You probably already know that your shoulder is a ball and socket joint — that is, your humerus, the top of the bone in your arm, has a rounded end that sits in a shallow depression in your shoulder blade, also called the scapula. The humerus fits somewhat loosely in the scapula.

Your shoulder’s huge range of motion is thanks to a complex structure of soft tissues and muscles that hold the ball in the socket. 

What happens during shoulder dislocation

When your shoulder is dislocated, the ball comes out of the socket, either partially or fully. Imagine that you trip over a curb and fall onto a sidewalk, landing on your shoulder. Depending on your angle as you land, your body weight and the impact of the fall could push the top of your humerus out of the shallow socket of your scapula. 

When the ball moves outside the socket, all of the soft tissues that support the joint and hold it in place get stretched. You feel pain right away, but it could become less painful and even numb afterward.

Immediate action

If you’ve watched many action movies, you may think the best thing to do is either shove the ball back into the socket yourself or have a friend do it for you. Don’t do it. Trying to pop your shoulder back into place yourself could very well result in a worse and longer-term injury.

Instead, apply ice to help reduce inflammation and pain. Then, get yourself to our office or to an emergency room for treatment.

It’s best to get treatment within 24 hours of the injury because the longer the joint is dislocated, the more likely it is that the tendons and ligaments surrounding it will stretch, inviting more problems later.

Dr. Hughes may recommend a sling to immobilize your shoulder while it heals, physical therapy to help strengthen it, or surgery. His decision depends on the severity of the dislocation, your age, the number of times your shoulder has been dislocated, and several other factors.

Even if you get treatment at the emergency room for a dislocated shoulder, you should consider following up with Dr. Hughes. As an expert in orthopedics, he’s especially qualified to diagnose and treat shoulder injuries. Seeking care from Dr. Hughes after a shoulder dislocation could prevent future issues such as post-dislocation arthritis. 

You can give us a call, send us a message here on our website, or book an appointment using our online scheduling option. We’re happy to help you regain mobility and function in your shoulder! 

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