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8 Most Commonly Asked Questions About Dislocated Shoulders

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The shoulder is a ball and socket joint that connects our arms to our bodies. It is the body’s most mobile joint, and can turn in virtually any direction. However, high mobility comes at the cost of stability. The shoulder joint is one of the most commonly injured sockets, with dislocation sitting at the top of the many injuries a shoulder is prone to.

What happens when a shoulder becomes dislocated?

Dislocation occurs when the bone of your upper arm (humerus) pops out of the socket (glenoid labrum) that houses it. The humerus can fully pop out or just partly protrude from the socket, in what is known as a partial dislocation or a shoulder subluxation. The humerus can pop forward, in which case it’s an anterior dislocation, and is the case for most first-time dislocations. If the humerus pops backward, it’s called a posterior dislocation.

What causes shoulder dislocation?

The most common cause of dislocations is direct, forceful trauma to the joint, either from a blow or from falling on it. Sports with high contact rates such as football and hockey puts players at a higher risk for dislocation. It can also be caused by overtraining and previous overuse injuries, which taxes the shoulder and increases risk of injury.

In some cases, epileptic seizures can cause dislocation if the muscles in the shoulder pull forwards or backwards too forcefully. Strokes may also cause partial dislocation when the muscles become paralyzed and the weight of the upper arm drags the shoulder down.


How do I prevent dislocating my shoulder?

Most prevention techniques are quite obvious. Avoid falling, and if you do, learn how to fall properly. Rolling into the fall, staying loose, and tucking in your arms lessen your risk of dislocating your shoulder. Try to fight against the natural instinct to reach out and stop the fall with your arms–that’s a quick way to break your wrist or elbow, if not your shoulder.

Athletes, when they can, should wear protective gear, like padded pads or shoulder braces. Of course, in contact sports like mixed martial arts, there’s no real way of wearing protective gear for your upper body. Athletes who participate in high contact sports can focus on strengthening muscles around joints for better support.

It is also important to get checked by your physician if your shoulder starts feeling too tight or loose, as it can possibly prevent an impending dislocation. Immediately stop any physical activity when your shoulder starts hurting.

Can a dislocated shoulder heal on its own?

One of the common questions people ask is if shoulder dislocations go away on their own. The short answer: no. Unless the humerus is popped back in by your doctor, you will continue to experience pain. The longer you leave the injury untreated, the more damage you do to the surrounding muscles and ligaments.

You may have heard or even seen people in movies popping a dislocated shoulder back in by themselves. Although in can work in theory, you risk doing more harm than good. While there are some ways to coax the humerus back into its socket, you shouldn’t try it unless you’re absolutely sure you know what you’re doing.

What are some immediate treatments for dislocated shoulders?

If you suspect you or a friend has dislocated their shoulder, it’s important to take steps to reduce further injury. First, try to immobilize the area with a sling, and never try to repeat the motion you think caused the dislocation. Grab some ice to help reduce the swelling around the joint. If the pain is too great, take a painkiller until you can get to a doctor or emergency room.

How long does it take to recover a dislocated shoulder?

While the humerus just popping out of its joint can sound less serious, a dislocation actually takes some time to recover from. Most shoulders can take up to 12 to 16 weeks to recover. This is because ligaments and muscles around the shoulder could have been overstretched.

During the recovery period, physicians can prescribe some light exercises to keep your muscles from weakening because of immobility.

Whatever you do, don’t rush the healing process. Patients, especially athletes, should lightly ease back into their sports. No hard training or pushing limits until your shoulder feels completely normal again, or is as strong as your other shoulder.

What do I do if my shoulder keeps dislocating?

In rare cases, you may need to undergo surgery to correct a dislocated shoulder. These are cases when the muscles and ligaments are torn because of dislocation, or when bones are so severely misaligned as to need surgery.

Repeatedly dislocating shoulders can result to chronic shoulder instability. In these cases, some lifestyle modification is often required to prevent further harm, in addition to physical therapy to strengthen structures that support the shoulder joint.

If patients don’t respond to non-surgical treatments, surgery will be required to return the shoulder to its normal function.

Read: Patient’s Guide When Seeking Orthopaedic Care in Singapore

What should I expect from surgery?

Shoulder arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure performed with a small camera (called the arthroscope) and slimmer surgical tools. Because the tools are thinner than tools surgeons use for open surgery, only small incisions are made. The video feed from the arthroscope is shown on a monitor and guides the surgeon around the joint.

Before surgery, your surgeon will require you to undergo tests. These usually includes an x-ray and some blood tests to check if you’re a candidate for surgery.

For the first couple of weeks after the surgery, your shoulder will need to be placed in a sling. Patients can expect some discomfort and residual pain, which can be addressed with painkillers, ice, and plenty of rest. Most, barring complications, can return to work or school a couple of days after surgery. However, full recovery can take months. Athletes will need to commit to extensive therapy before returning to sports.


Do you have more questions about shoulder dislocation and other related issues? Come in for a consultation with Harvard Fellowship-trained Dr. Andrew Quoc Dutton.

His clinical interests include sports injuries, arthroscopic/keyhole surgery for the knee hip, and shoulders, as well as arthroscopic ligament reconstruction among many others. You may call us for an appointment at +65 6836 8000.

About A/Professor Andrew Quoc Dutton

A/Professor Dutton, also known as, has been in clinical practice since 1996 after graduating from Marist College, Canberra and the University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia. A/Professor Dutton has worked at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, and the St. George Hospital, Sydney, before completing his orthopaedic surgery training in Singapore. He is currently an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the National University of Singapore (NUS).