Dislocated Shoulder: Causes, Treatment & Prevention (2024)

How are dislocated shoulders treated?

Go to the emergency room right away if you think your shoulder might be dislocated. The most important treatment for a dislocated shoulder is getting your arm back into its socket. This is called a closed reduction or manipulation. During this nonsurgical procedure, your provider will physically push and pull your body on the outside to set (align) your shoulder. They might give you a local anesthetic to numb the area around your shoulder or sedatives to relax your whole body.

Don’t try to push your joint back in place by yourself. Don’t let anyone who’s not a trained, professional healthcare provider move or touch your injured shoulder, either. Try to hold your shoulder as still as possible and don’t force yourself to use it.

If you try to force a dislocated shoulder back in place on your own, you can make your injury worse and damage the tissue around it.

After your provider puts your joint back in place, you might need other treatments, including:

  • Immobilization: After your closed reduction, you’ll need to wear a splint or sling to hold your injured shoulder in place. This is called immobilization. This will take stress off it and help it heal. Your provider might recommend icing your injured shoulder a few times a day. You may need to do light exercises so your shoulder doesn’t tighten or freeze. Ask your provider how long you’ll need to wear the splint or sling, and how often you should exercise your shoulder. Most people need to immobilize their shoulders for a few weeks.
  • Medication: Your provider will tell you which medication you can take to reduce pain and inflammation. Don’t take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers for more than 10 days in a row without talking to your provider.
  • Rest: You’ll need to avoid any physical activity that uses or puts stress on your shoulder. Ask your provider which activities to avoid while you’re recovering.
  • Physical therapy: As your shoulder heals, you’ll need to start physical therapy to help it regain its strength and ability to move. At first, you’ll probably only have gentle motion exercises to reduce stiffness. After your shoulder ligaments (your shoulder capsule) have started to heal, you’ll need stretches to loosen your shoulder and make sure it’s not too tight. Eventually, your provider or physical therapist will have you add in exercises to strengthen your shoulder muscles. This will help reduce your risk of future dislocations. Most people need several months of physical therapy after a shoulder dislocation.

Dislocated shoulder surgery

Most people don’t need surgery after dislocating their shoulders. You may need surgery if:

  • The injury that dislocated your shoulder caused other damage inside your body.
  • A closed reduction doesn’t work or isn’t possible. In this case, you’ll need surgery to reset your shoulder joint.
  • You’ve dislocated the same shoulder in the past. You might need surgery to repair or tighten the ligaments that keep your arm attached to your shoulder blade.

What is the recovery time for a dislocated shoulder?

It usually takes a few months to recover after dislocating your shoulder. You’ll need to keep your shoulder immobilized for a few weeks and months of physical therapy after your joint has healed.

Ask your provider how long you need to wait before you resume physical activities. If you return to playing sports or working out before your shoulder has fully healed, you have an increased risk of reinjuring it — including dislocating it again.

Dislocated Shoulder: Causes, Treatment & Prevention (2024)


What are the causes of shoulder dislocation? ›

Shoulder dislocation is usually accompanied by other problems, such as tears of the ligaments or labrum within the shoulder joint. Shoulder dislocation can happen to anyone and can be caused by trauma to the shoulder through sports injuries, falls or other accidents in which the shoulder is forced out of place.

How do you prevent a dislocated shoulder? ›

To help prevent a dislocated shoulder:
  1. Take care to avoid falls and other shoulder injuries.
  2. Wear protective gear when playing contact sports.
  3. Exercise regularly to maintain strength and flexibility in joints and muscles.
Aug 23, 2022

What is the best treatment for a dislocated shoulder? ›

The most important treatment for a dislocated shoulder is getting your arm back into its socket. This is called a closed reduction or manipulation. During this nonsurgical procedure, your provider will physically push and pull your body on the outside to set (align) your shoulder.

What is the first line treatment for a dislocated shoulder? ›

Immobilization and Icing

Doctors recommend using a sling or brace to immobilize the affected arm and shoulder for four to six weeks to allow the muscles and other soft tissues to rest and heal.

Can you fix a dislocated shoulder yourself? ›

A dislocated shoulder is when your upper arm bone comes out of place from your shoulder socket. Get medical help as soon as possible if you think you've dislocated your shoulder. Do not try to treat it yourself.

Can dislocated shoulder heal itself? ›

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.

Can you recover 100% from a shoulder dislocation? ›

If your dislocation is fairly simple, your shoulder joint will improve over a few weeks. After surgery, you'll wear a sling for about six weeks, gradually working on range of motion and strength. Full recovery may take five to six months.

What should you not do after shoulder dislocation? ›

Don't repeat the specific action that caused the shoulder to dislocate. Try to avoid painful movements. Limit heavy lifting or overhead activity until the shoulder feels better.

What is the average recovery time for a dislocated shoulder? ›

You can stop wearing the sling after a few days, but it takes about 12 to 16 weeks to completely recover from a dislocated shoulder. You'll usually be able to resume most activities within two weeks. You should avoid heavy lifting and sports involving shoulder movements for between six weeks and three months.

What does the ER do for a dislocated shoulder? ›

You can get a fast diagnosis and begin treatment by visiting an ER or urgent care for a dislocated shoulder. Once diagnosed, your doctor must put the shoulder back in place. This usually requires a non-surgical closed reduction procedure.

What are the long term effects of a dislocated shoulder? ›

Once your shoulder has been dislocated once, you have a very high risk of re-injury and recurring dislocations. When the shoulder repeatedly slips out of place, it's called chronic shoulder instability. Fractures. Many people sustain broken bones when the shoulder is dislocated.

Can you move your arm with a dislocated shoulder? ›

You have likely injured (stretched or torn) some of the muscles, tendons (tissues that connect muscle to bone), or ligaments (tissues that connect bone to bone) of the shoulder joint. All of these tissues help keep your arm in place. Having a dislocated shoulder is very painful. It is very hard to move your arm.

What is the most common cause of dislocation? ›

Overview. A dislocation is an injury that forces the bones in a joint out of position. The cause is usually a fall, a car accident or an injury during contact sports.

Why did my shoulder randomly dislocate? ›

Shoulder instability usually occurs when the lining of the shoulder joint (the capsule), ligaments or labrum become stretched, torn or detached, allowing the ball of the shoulder joint (humeral head) to move either completely or partially out of the socket.

What increases risk of shoulder dislocation? ›

Risk Factors for Shoulder Dislocation

Those at risk for a microtraumatic dislocation include participants in sports with a lot of overhead motion, including swimming, volleyball, and baseball. After the first dislocation, the shoulder is much more vulnerable to a recurring dislocation—especially for younger patients.

Can you dislocate a shoulder without injury? ›

In a small minority of patients, the shoulder can become unstable without a history of injury or repetitive strain. In such patients, the shoulder may feel loose or dislocate in multiple directions, meaning the ball may dislocate out the front, out the back, or out the bottom of the shoulder.

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