Shoulder instability and dislocation can be incredibly painful conditions, impacting athletic activities, performance and overall quality of life. Jodi Chambers, PA-C, Parkview Ortho Express, explains the injury and what patients can expect following an occurrence.
A shoulder dislocation is when the ball of the upper arm bone slips out of its cup-shaped socket. The injury typically happens when the arm is forward, in a throwing position. I typically see it in quarterbacks and linemen, or athletes who frequently perform the "swim" move. It’s also a common result of a fall, especially in non-athletes.
Younger people are more prone to shoulder dislocation for a couple of reasons: 1) They tend to participate in higher risk activities, and 2) they are laxer in their joints.
The best way to prevent this injury from occurring is to avoid falls. Be mindful of trip hazards, wet floors, and icy patches. For athletes or those prone to shoulder dislocation, it’s important to keep the rotator cuff muscles strong and balanced by practicing stretches and strength-building exercises.
Most of the time, when a patient dislocates their shoulder they don't fracture anything, so the injury reduces on its own and healing is fairly quick. Patients who are experiencing a dislocation for the first time, or have any hesitation, should seek medical assistance. The injury typically needs to be medically reduced mostly because the pain is significant enough that medication is required. People who have chronic instability typically are able to relocate it themselves.
After the injury, a medical professional will obtain x-rays to evaluate the joint. Most patients will be referred to rehabilitation to strengthen the rotator cuff muscle. The care team might order an MRI as well if there is persistent laxity. In some cases, surgical intervention is required.