Have You Dislocated Your Shoulder?

What is a dislocated shoulder?

A joint is dislocated if the bones that should be in contact are pulled apart so that the joint no longer functions. The cause is usually a severe injury that exerts a force great enough to tear the joint ligaments. In addition to displaced bones, there may also be serious damage to the joint capsule and occasionally to surrounding muscles, blood vessels, and nerves.

Occasionally, the injury that causes the dislocation also produces a fracture in one or both of the bones. Dislocations that are not caused by an injury may be congenital or may infrequently occur as complication of rheumatoid arthritis. A dislocation may happen repeatedly, without apparent cause, to a person with a joint weakened by an earlier injury. The jaw and shoulder joints are especially susceptible to this spontaneous type of dislocation.

A dislocated shoulder joint may look misshapen, is usually painful, and often is swollen, discolored, and immovable. Other symptoms of a dislocation are related to and depend on the extent of damage to surrounding tissues, nerves and blood vessels.

Dislocation of spinal vertebrae can damage the entire spinal cord, sometimes causing paralysis of the body below the level of the injury. Similarly, dislocation of a shoulder or hip can damage the main nerves to the affected arm or leg and cause paralysis of part of the limb. Some joints that have been dislocated may be susceptible to osteoarthritis.

•    Do not let anyone try to manipulate your dislocated joint unless you are sure they know exactly what to do. There may be a fracture or other damage that can be made worse if the injury is handled incorrectly.

•    Protect the injured area as well as you can and get to a physician or hospital as quickly as possible.

•    Do not eat or drink; this is a problem if you need to have a general anesthetic to have the dislocation repositioned. The physician will X-ray the joint and surrounding area to determine the extent of damage.

If you have recurrent spontaneous dislocation, you may have recurrent spontaneous dislocations, you may be able to learn how to reposition the joint yourself. Even so, you should see our physician promptly to make sure the repositioning is correct.

After 15 to 30 minutes a dislocated joint usually becomes so swollen and painful that repositioning may have to be done under a general anesthetic.

Afterward, if the blood vessels, nerves and bones are in place and undamaged, the joint will probably be protected in a brace for 2 to 3 weeks so that other damaged tissues can heal.

Follow your physician’s instructions about when and how to use the joint again. Failure to do so can result in re-injury. Physical therapy is often used during the rehabilitation period.

Sometimes shoulder surgery is necessary to achieve satisfactory repositioning. Also, if one of your joints has become very week because of repeated dislocations, your physician may recommend an operation to tighten the ligaments that bind the adjoining bones.