How do you know if you have a dislocated shoulder?

August 10, 2020 | By: Raleigh Orthopaedic Team

The shoulder joint is the body’s most mobile joint. It can turn in many directions, but this advantage also makes the shoulder an easy joint to dislocate.

The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint and is made up of three bones: the upper arm bone (humerus), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the collarbone (clavicle). A partial dislocation (subluxation) means the head of the upper arm bone is partially out of the socket (glenoid). A complete dislocation means it is all the way out of the socket. Both partial and complete dislocations cause pain and unsteadiness in the shoulder.


Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Bruising
  • Unsteadiness
  • Deformity

Sometimes a dislocation may tear ligaments or tendons in the shoulder or damage nerves.


The shoulder joint can dislocate forward, backward, or downward. A common type of shoulder dislocation is when the shoulder slips forward (anterior instability). This means the upper arm bone moved forward and out of its socket. It may happen when the arm is put in a throwing position.


Nonsurgical Treatment

The immediate treatment for a dislocated shoulder is a closed reduction. During a closed reduction, the ball of the upper arm bone is placed back into the joint socket. Severe pain stops almost immediately once the shoulder is back in place. This can sometimes be done on the field but often requires a trip to the ER to have the reduction done with sedation.

Your Raleigh Orthopaedic physician may immobilize the shoulder in a sling or other device for several weeks following treatment. Plenty of early rest is needed. The sore area can be iced 3 to 4 times a day. After the pain and swelling go down, rehabilitation exercises will be prescribed to help restore the shoulder’s range of motion and strengthen the muscles. Rehabilitation may also help prevent dislocation of the shoulder again in the future. Rehabilitation will begin with gentle muscle toning exercises. Later, weight training can be added.

Learn more about therapy services at Raleigh Orthopaedic.

If shoulder dislocation becomes a recurrent problem, a brace can sometimes help, especially for players returning to contact sports. However, if therapy and bracing fail, surgery may be needed to repair or tighten the torn or stretched ligaments that help hold the joint in place, particularly in young athletes.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery for shoulder dislocations/instability is typically done arthroscopically (using a camera and instruments through small skin incisions). The labrum is mobilized and the bone along the rim of the socket (glenoid) is prepared to help stimulate the healing of the soft tissue. Anchors, with high strength sutures in them, are placed in the bone and the sutures are passed around the labrum and capsule to secure it to the bone. This ‘tightens’ the shoulder and re-creates the bumper effect of the labrum to prevent dislocation of the shoulder.

Open repairs for shoulder instability can also be performed. Often referred to as an open Bankart repair, this involves a longer incision in the front of the shoulder and similar techniques using anchors to tension the capsule and repair the labrum.


Schedule an appointment

Your well-being is important to us. Raleigh Orthopaedic is Wake County’s oldest and most experienced orthopedic practice, serving the Triangle and surrounding regions of central North Carolina since 1919. Raleigh Orthopaedic offers online scheduling so click the button below or call us at (919) 781-5600 to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our Raleigh Orthopaedic Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists.