Recovery From a Dislocated Shoulder
posted by Mitchell Larsen, MD | August 24, 2018
Certain sports and activities increase your risk of shoulder dislocation, including contact sports like rugby, football or hockey, as well as sports in which you are more likely to fall, such as skiing, volleyball or rock climbing. However, you don’t have to be playing sports or engaging in outdoor activities to have a dislocated shoulder; any fall or strong impact to the shoulder can cause it to dislocate.
Dislocated shoulders are fairly common because the ability of the shoulder joint to move in so many directions also makes it unstable. The bone of your upper arm, called the humerus, has a ball-shaped structure, called the humeral head, at the tip that articulates with the socket-shaped glenoid fossa, the depression at the end of the shoulder blade (scapula). If you fall on the shoulder joint (also known as the glenohumeral joint), or something hits you hard in that area, the humeral head can pop out of its socket because it is only held in place by soft tissues like muscles and tendons.
If your shoulder becomes dislocated, you must see a doctor to have it reset as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more the soft tissues in your shoulder will swell up, which will make it more difficult to guide the humeral head back into its socket. Therefore, a dislocated shoulder requires an immediate trip to an urgent care clinic.
When you arrive to the clinic, the doctor will order X-rays to determine which direction your shoulder has dislocated from, as this influences the approach used to reset it. The doctor will also ask you some questions about how your shoulder dislocated and if it has happened before. The actual procedure to put your shoulder back in its socket, called a closed reduction, should take only a matter of a few minutes. The time to recover from the injury, however, will likely be longer.
If your dislocated shoulder is severe, or if your shoulder dislocates often, you may require surgery to repair the damage. However, most dislocated shoulders heal very well with nonsurgical treatment. Generally speaking, the time it takes to recover from a dislocated shoulder can range from one to three months, but keep in mind that this is only an estimate. Failure to follow your doctor’s instructions will hamper your recovery and prolong healing, so be sure to listen to your doctor and do what s/he advises.
Healing your dislocated shoulder often requires you to immobilize the shoulder in a sling, usually over the span of several weeks. The most severe pain will cease once your shoulder is back where it belongs, but you will probably experience mild pain afterwards. Ice and anti-inflammatory medicines are usually sufficient to cope with this pain. As your shoulder heals, your doctor will probably prescribe exercises to perform in order to strengthen the shoulder and help prevent further dislocation. You may see a physical therapist for this, or your doctor may give you a program that you can perform at home.
As with any sports injury, follow your physician’s advice on when you can resume activities. If you have questions about when you can go back to playing sports, ask your doctor or physical therapist.
“Dislocated Shoulder.” OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/dislocated-shoulder/
“Dislocated or Separated Shoulder.” WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/dislocated-separated-shoulder#3
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.