Having a dislocated shoulder is painful. It usually occurs from a fall or a blow to the shoulder, wherein the mobility and the ball-in-socket mechanism becomes dislocated. It usually happens during accidents in sports activities, falling onto the shoulder, trying to break a fall with the hand, and being hit in the shoulder.
What is a Dislocated Shoulder?
When the round ball at the top of the upper arm bone (humerus) leaves the shoulder blade (scapula), a dislocation of the shoulder occurs. It happens when it turned into a direction that the joint is not supposed to go. That mobility can leave the shoulder unstable, though it’s anchored by muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
Tissues that hold the bones together – including tendons, muscles, and ligaments that join the shoulder bone to the shoulder blade – are also injured sometimes when a shoulder gets dislocated. Tearing of the cartilage is also possible.
The shoulder joint is inherently unstable and prone to slipping out of place, so you must be careful. If you keep dislocating your shoulder, you may wind up with chronic instability and weakness.
A partially dislocated shoulder means that only part of the humerus is out of the socket.
Symptoms of a Dislocated Shoulder
Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder include:
- Extreme pain as soon as the injury happens
- Bruising or redness
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness or tingling of the arm, hand, or fingers
- Tenderness of the shoulder and collarbone
- Difficulty of moving the arm or immobility
- Visibly deformed shoulder
To diagnose a dislocated shoulder, your doctor will examine you. You will need X-rays to rule out broken bones and other potential conditions.
If you believe that your shoulder is dislocated, do these steps:
- Don’t move your arm and keep it close to the body. Don’t try to jam the shoulder back into place since this can damage your muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels.
- Apply an ice pack to the injured, painful, or swelling area. Ice helps reduce pain and swelling while you’re waiting for medical attention.
- Bring it to an emergency room or call 911 to receive immediate medical attention.
Treatments for Dislocated Shoulders
A dislocated shoulder must never be treated on your own. You will need a help of a doctor to treat this kind of injury.
The doctor will first inspect the affected area for any swelling, tenderness, or deformity. An X-ray of your shoulder joint will be necessary to check the dislocation, reveal if there are any broken bones, and see the extent of the damage so they can apply proper treatment.
Treatment for a dislocated shoulder usually involves:
1. Closed reduction
This is the most common procedure done by health care providers when treating a dislocated shoulder. The doctor will try some gentle maneuvers to help the shoulder bones back into the socket. Depending on the amount of pain and swelling, you may need a pain reliever, a sedative, or, rarely, general anesthesia before manipulating the shoulder bones. When it’s back to its proper place, severe pain ends almost immediately.
Most of the time, a closed reduction will do the trick. But in rare cases, surgery is necessary because a tendon, ligament, or a piece of broken bone gets caught in the joint, preventing the return of the humeral head to the glenoid. Severely separated shoulders also need surgery from an orthopedic surgeon. Afterward, you will need to keep your arm in a sling for about six weeks.
3. Wearing a sling
Your doctor will use a special splint or a sling to keep your shoulder in place and prevent it from moving. How long you wear it depends on the nature of your shoulder dislocation and how soon the sling or splint is applied after the accident. It’s usually worn for a few days to several weeks.
The third step for treating dislocated shoulder is rehabilitation. After the sling or shoulder splint is removed, you will need to begin a gradual rehabilitation program designed to restore strength, stability, and range of motion to your shoulder joint. Rehabilitation consists of safe, doctor-recommended stretching and strengthening exercises to help the shoulder get back to its original capabilities.
While your shoulder is trying to heal after being treated, here are the things you can do at home to speed up healing and help ease discomfort:
If you have a minor shoulder dislocation without any significant nerve or tissue damage, your shoulder joint will likely improve over a few weeks. But while you’re on the recovery process, you’ll be at a greater risk for future dislocation. Resuming activity too soon may cause injury to your shoulder joint or dislocate it again. It’s better to wait for it to heal than rush things.
Rest your shoulder and avoid heavy lifting or overhead activity until your shoulder gets completely healed. Do not repeat the specific action that caused your shoulder to dislocate and avoid sudden movements.
If you play contact sports, ease back in. Be especially careful that they are fully healed before playing again. Do not try to return to your previous level of physical activity until you can move your injured shoulder as freely as your uninjured one. It must also feel as strong as the other before you go back to your normal level of activity. If you start using your shoulder before it’s healed, you can be at risk for permanent damage.
2. Ice your shoulder, then apply heat.
Putting ice on your shoulder can help reduce pain and swelling. Use a cold pack, a towel filled with ice cubes, or a bag of frozen vegetables for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Do it every couple of hours for two to three days.
When the pain and inflammation have improved after two to three days, use hot packs or a heating pad to help relax tight and sore muscles. Limit heat applications to 20 minutes at a time.
3. Take pain relievers.
To help relieve pain, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, or acetaminophen.
4. Maintain the range of motion.
After a day or two, do some gentle stretching and strengthening exercises recommended by your doctor or physical therapist to help keep the range of motion of your shoulder. Inactivity will cause your joints to stiffen. Also, keeping it inactive can lead to a frozen shoulder, wherein the shoulder gets so stiff you can barely move it.
Once the injury heals and you’ve got a good range of motion in your shoulder, continue with your exercise. Doing daily shoulder stretches and strengthening exercises can help prevent a recurrence of dislocation.