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Shoulder dislocation

What is a Shoulder Dislocation?

A dislocated shoulder occurs when the ball of the shoulder joint is forcibly separated from the socket of the shoulder blade. A dislocation is a severe joint injury involving tearing of ligaments and other structures around the shoulder although once it is put back into place it’s not ‘fixed’. This means that the shoulder will need treatment and rehabilitation to repair the soft tissue damage and to restore strength and safe flexibility. 

Approximately 90 % of athletes aged under 40 will repeatedly dislocate their shoulder. This can be done through overhead activities such as swimming or throwing.

What causes a shoulder dislocation?

Anterior shoulder dislocations are most commonly caused by a direct blow to the shoulder or by a fall on an outstretched hand. It is common that some people have loose joints making them a victim to reoccurring dislocations and partial dislocations (subluxations) of their shoulders which is called ‘posteroinferior direction’ referred to as multidirectional instability (MDI).

How do I know if I have a dislocated shoulder?

You may have a dislocated shoulder if you experience the following:

  • Acute, searing pain radiating down your arm
  • You may be unable to move your arm from its current position
  • Your shoulder will look out of position
  • Your arm may feel numb therefore this may mean that you have nerve damage.

You will need to be examined to determine the injury. An X-ray will be required to determine the position of your humeral head relative to the socket and to determine if there is also a fracture. Your examiner will be able to feel the bone at the back of your shoulder. If this is the first time of having a dislocated shoulder then you should be treated in the emergency section of the hospital.

How can physiotherapy help with shoulder dislocation?

It is important that your shoulder is relocated and then immobilised for 3–6 weeks to allow the soft tissues to repair. This may occur using a sling or tape.

After the 3 – 6 weeks, Physiotherapy can help you by:

  • Helping you with functional training, this will occur when your shoulder is pain-free. This training will focus on the rotator cuff muscles.
  • Helping you with Deltoid strengthening. This type of strengthening occurs when your axillary nerve is injured, it ensures that you have good control of your core and legs so you are not putting extra pressure on your shoulder.
  • Giving you exercises to improve the ‘proprioception’ of your joint.

What can I do at home?

It is important that you listen to the advice that your physiotherapist has given you to ensure your shoulder completely heals. This means resting your shoulder until it heals which includes avoiding activities such as driving or any other activities where your arm is out from your side and your shoulder is externally rotated.

You must complete your prescribed exercises including the ones for your shoulder and the strengthening ones for your legs and core.

How long will my recovery be?

A dislocated shoulder takes up to three months to feel more secure, although it this will take longer if you would like to return to sports, approximately be 6–12 months before you will be able to participate safely in your chosen sport.

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

Back to Physiotherapy for Your Shoulder

Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.