Dislocated Shoulder & Shoulder Instability

Dr Marcus Chia - Shoulder Surgeon

Learn about dislocated shoulder causes and treatment options.

What is a dislocated shoulder?

A dislocated shoulder occurs when the ball and socket of the shoulder joint become separated. The shoulder can dislocate forwards, backwards or downwards.

In some cases, the dislocation can cause damage to the bone of the glenoid (called a Bony Bankart lesion) or the humeral head (called a Hill-Sachs lesion).

The shoulder is one of the most mobile joints in your body. It is made up of three bones:

  • the humerus (arm bone)
  • the scapula (shoulder blade)
  • the clavicle (collar bone).

The joint made by the humeral head (top of the arm bone) and the glenoid (part of the shoulder blade) is typically referred to as the shoulder joint or the glenohumeral joint. It is a ball and socket joint and allows for a large degree of mobility.

The tremendous mobility of the shoulder joint means that it is less stable than other joints in the body.

What are the symptoms of a dislocated shoulder?

The symptoms of a shoulder dislocation include:

  • a ‘popping’ sensation when the injury occurs
  • pain
  • numbness and tingling in the fingers or a ‘dead arm’ feeling
  • difficulty or inability to move the arm
  • deformity or abnormal appearance of the shoulder.
What causes dislocated shoulders?

The most common causes of dislocated shoulders include:

  • Sports injuries – most people dislocate their shoulder during a contact sport, such as rugby, or in a sports-related accident
  • Falls – either falling directly on the shoulder or on an outstretched hand.

Shoulder dislocations can occur more easily in people who are flexible, such as those with joint hypermobility (loose joints) and connective tissue disorders.

Young people have a higher risk of recurring shoulder dislocations or symptoms of shoulder instability. People who are older have less risk of repeat dislocations, but they are at risk of rotator cuff tears associated with the dislocation.

How do I know if I have a dislocated shoulder?

If you think you may have dislocated your shoulder, go to your nearest emergency room. It is important to have your shoulder put back in place as soon as possible.

In some cases, the shoulder can go back into place on its own. In most cases, however, a dislocated shoulder will need to be manually manipulated to put the ball back into the socket. This usually results in immediate pain relief.

After your dislocation has been reduced, Dr Chia will assess your injury, examine your shoulder and confirm that your shoulder has been properly put back into place with an X-Ray. You may also need an MRI or CT scan to further assess the damage to the shoulder and help Dr Chia develop a treatment plan.

What are the treatment options for dislocated shoulder?

After your shoulder has been put back in place, the initial treatment involves:

  • resting and icing the injured shoulder
  • keeping the shoulder immobilised in a sling
  • doing regular physiotherapy exercises.

Some people, including those who have recurring shoulder dislocations, may benefit from surgery. Dr Chia will discuss your options and suitability for surgery.

In most cases, keyhole (arthroscopic) surgery in the form of shoulder stabilisation can help repair the damaged labrum and ligaments.

If you have had multiple dislocations where bone loss from the socket (glenoid) or ball (humeral head) has occurred, Dr Chia may recommend a Latarjet procedure. This is a specialised procedure that involves the transfer of a piece of bone (coracoid process) with its attached muscles into the bony defect over the front of the socket (glenoid). The surgery replaces the missing bone and the transferred muscle also acts as a ‘sling’ to prevent dislocation. This procedure can deliver excellent results. After your surgery, you will need to follow a treatment and rehabilitation plan, based on the type of procedure you had.

Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. The information provided here is for general educational purposes only. For more information on shoulder dislocations and instability or to learn more about arthroscopic shoulder stabilisation or Latarjet procedures, please contact the office of Dr Marcus Chia - Sydney Orthopaedic Shoulder and Elbow Surgeon.

For appointments and enquiries, please phone (02) 8014 4252

Peninsula Orthopaedics
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Northern Beaches Hospital
105 Frenchs Forest Road
Frenchs Forest NSW 2086

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Mona Vale NSW 2103

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San Clinic
Sydney Adventist Hospital
185 Fox Valley Road
Wahroonga NSW 2076

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