Health Library

Health Library

Shoulder Dislocation

What is dislocation of the shoulder?

Anatomy of the shoulder

Dislocation of the shoulder means the displacement of the upper arm bone (humerus) out of the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated major joint of the body often caused by a significant force that separates the shoulder joint's ball (the top rounded portion of the upper arm bone, or humerus) away from the joint's socket (glenoid). The shoulder can dislocate in several ways, including the following:

  • Forward and downward dislocation. These are the most common types of dislocations, which are usually the result of falling on an outstretched hand or on the shoulder itself.

  • Backward dislocation. This type of dislocation may be caused by a direct blow to the front of the shoulder, the violent twisting of the upper arm, a seizure, or electrocution.

In addition, a shoulder can be partially dislocated (the head of the upper arm is partially out of the shoulder socket) or completely dislocated (the head of the upper arm is completely out of the shoulder socket).

A dislocation can result in a fracture of the upper arm bone. Other complications may include the following:

  • Nerve damage

  • Damage to an artery

  • Muscle damage

What are the symptoms of a shoulder dislocation?

The following are the most common symptoms of a dislocated shoulder. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the upper arm and shoulder, which is usually worse during attempts at movement

  • Decreased motion 

  • Swelling

  • Numbness and weakness

  • Bruising

  • Deformity of the shoulder (in a forward dislocation)

The symptoms of a dislocated shoulder may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

How is a shoulder dislocation diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a dislocated shoulder may include an X-ray (a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film).

Treatment for a shoulder dislocation

Specific treatment for a shoulder dislocation will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the injury

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the injury

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Moving the head of the upper arm bone back into the shoulder joint, usually after an anesthetic

  • Immobilization of the shoulder with a sling

  • Rehabilitation

  • Surgery if nonsurgical measures do not restore stability

Shoulder Dislocation - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: Berry, Judith, PhD, APRN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
© 2014 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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