Shoulder Instability​/Dislocation

What is shoulder instability and shoulder dislocation?

The shoulder is the most flexible joint of the body. It helps you lift your arm, rotate it, and to reach up over your head. It is able to turn in many directions. With this greater range of motion, however, it can be vulnerable to instability and dislocation.

Shoulder dislocation occurs when the ball of the joint is forced out of the shoulder socket. This usually happens as a result of a sudden injury but can happen without an injury if a person is unusually flexible.

Shoulder dislocations can be partial, with the ball of the upper arm coming just partially out of the socket. This is called a shoulder subluxation. A complete dislocation means the ball comes all the way out of the socket.

Once a shoulder has dislocated, it is vulnerable to repeat episodes. When the shoulder is loose and slips out of place repeatedly, it is called chronic or recurrent shoulder instability.

What are dislocated shoulder symptoms?

Common dislocated shoulder symptoms include:

  • Pain caused by shoulder injury
  • Repeated shoulder dislocations
  • Repeated instances of the shoulder giving way
  • A persistent sensation of the shoulder feeling loose, slipping in and out of the joint

How to fix a dislocated shoulder

The likelihood of further shoulder dislocations is dramatically increased if you are of younger age. Non-surgical options are often trialed to try to relieve the pain and prevent instability.

Non-surgical treatment includes activity modification and physiotherapy to strengthen shoulder muscle and working on shoulder control to increase stability.

Shoulder instability surgery is often necessary to repair torn or stretched ligaments that cannot be healed with physiotherapy so that they are able to hold the shoulder joint in place. It should be noted that no amount of physiotherapy can heal a torn shoulder capsule (rubbery cup that attaches ligaments to the bones of the shoulder). The Melbourne Arm Clinic can provide appropriate testing and imaging to assess the severity of shoulder instability.

Arthroscopy keyhole surgery is an effective way to stabilise the shoulder using this minimally invasive technique which can achieve good results by a shoulder specialist.

In more severe cases of instability, where there is significant bone loss in the ball and socket joint, an open bone graft procedure maybe need to be performed. This is known as a Latarjet procedure.

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