A dislocated shoulder is an injury that results from the failure of the shoulder joint to remain in its proper position. Specifically, it involves the separation of the humerus (upper arm bone) from the scapula (the bone connecting the humerus to the collar bone). If the joint slides partially out of place, this is called shoulder subluxation. If it slides completely out of place, shoulder dislocation has taken place.
This type of injury can lead to a long term condition known as shoulder instability in which the shoulder joint is unable to remain permanently in its proper position. This is because shoulder dislocation can damage the ligaments of the shoulder and thus adversely affect their ability to hold the joint in place. To minimize the risk of this happening, anyone who suspects that they have suffered a dislocated shoulder should seek prompt medical attention.
Shoulder Dislocation Causes
The shoulder joint tends to be dislocated more frequently than any other joint of the body. The most frequent cause of dislocation is usually a powerful blow to the joint that pushes the bones of the shoulder out of place. Extreme rotation of the joint is another frequent cause of dislocation as it can result in the ball of the humerus (upper arm bone ) partially or completely popping out of the shoulder socket.
The situations most commonly giving rise to a dislocated shoulder include:
Collisions between athletes in contact sports such as hockey or football. Falls in these types sports can also cause a dislocated shoulder;
Motor vehicle accidents in which the individual suffers a hard blow to the shoulder;
Falling onto the shoulder in some other type of situation (e.g. slipping on an icy pavement, for example).
Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder or shoulder subluxation may include the following:
Visible deformity of the shoulder;
Intense pain together with swelling and bruising;
Difficulty moving the shoulder, or complete inability to move the joint.
Someone with a dislocated shoulder may also experience numbness, weakness or tingling along the neck or down the arm. Muscle spasms in the shoulder may also occur and may increase the intensity of the pain the individual is already experiencing.
Treatment Of A Dislocated Shoulder
If the shoulder dislocation does not involve nerve or tissue damage, the injury will likely improve by itself over the course of a few weeks. However, this will leave the patient at a higher risk of another dislocation. He or she also needs to be careful not to try resuming regular activities too soon, as this too can lead to another dislocation. Consequently, the first step after experiencing a dislocated shoulder (and having it confirmed by an official diagnosis) is beginning a course of treatment under the care of a medical professional.
After examining the injury, a doctor can try one or more of the following courses of treatment:
Closed Reduction, involving gentle manipulation of the shoulder to get the bones back into their proper positions;
Surgery, if nerve or blood vessels have been damaged or if the patient has experienced recurring dislocations;
Once the dislocated shoulder is well on the way to healing, shoulder rehabilitation exercises to return the joint to normal function.
Home Based Treatments
The patient can usually supplement the above treatments with the following:
Resting the shoulder by refraining from using it for any strenuous duties such as throwing objects, lifting heavy items or performing overhead tasks;
Using hot and cold compresses to reduce the pain and inflammation. For example, the patient can try alternating hot and cold treatments at intervals of 30 minutes or so for a couple of days. He or she can then switch to using a hot pack or heating pad for further pain relief and to relax tight muscles;
Simple shoulder rehabilitation exercises can be useful to keep the shoulder joint moving. Without these exercises, the dislocated shoulder injury can lead to frozen shoulder. A physiotherapist can design a program of home based exercises to follow using a shoulder pulley.