A dislocated shoulder occurs when the head of the humerus pops out of the glenoid socket. Force, such as falls during sport, is usually responsible for such a dislocation. Sometimes the dislocated shoulder springs back of its own accord. However, the shoulder joint must usually be put back in manually. If there are also injuries to the joint capsule or to tendons, nerves or ligaments when the shoulder is dislocated, surgical may be required.
The shoulder joint allows a wide scope of movement and is mainly stabilised by the muscles and tendons. In contrast to other joints, it can dislocate relatively quickly if considerable force is applied. If the connective tissue of the tendons and the joint capsule are also weakened, even a minor tug on the arm can cause the shoulder to dislocate. This often occurs after the initial shoulder dislocation due to an accident. The ligaments and tendons are weakened as a result of this initial dislocation, which increase the likelihood of it occurring again with less force. The more often a person suffers a dislocated shoulder, the more unstable the shoulder joint will become.
If you dislocate your shoulder, this causes severe pain in the shoulder and upper arm area. The arm hangs limply by the body and can no longer be lifted using your own strength.
A dislocated shoulder is diagnosed on the basis of the typical appearance and the accident or medical history. X-rays of the shoulder are carried out at several levels to detect injuries and fractures. If there are suspected soft tissue injuries, an MRI examination will be carried out if necessary.
The initial goal of the treatment is to relocate the shoulder quickly. Sometimes this is not possible due to the muscle tension. In such cases, a short anaesthetic is required to relax the muscle. After the relocating the shoulder, it must be immobilised in a sling or a special bandage for several days. Weight is slowly put on the shoulder joint and the stability is tested with focused physiotherapeutic exercises. If the shoulder joint is too unstable as a result of the shoulder capsule injuries, the shoulder sometimes requires surgical stabilisation. This procedure is usually carried out arthroscopically. Find out more in the Shoulder arthroscopy section.
A dislocated shoulder only requires immediately surgical treatment in rare cases. For example, in the case of particular fractures of the joint head or the hip socket.