What is shoulder dislocation or subluxation?

Shoulder dislocation is a traumatic injury that can occur from a fall or sporting activity. This causes an anterior or forward dislocation of the humerus (upper arm bone). Shoulder subluxation is when there is temporary and partial dislocation of the humerus from the shoulder joint.

The injury usually occurs suddenly and is caused by trauma such as a fall. Unlike other joints in the body, the shoulder joint can be dislocated because of its high mobility and decreased stability.

Shoulder dislocations can become a recurring problem in athletes as the joint may become loose over time.

What does it feel like?

There is a sudden onset of pain and a feeling of the shoulder 'popping out' from the joint.

The shoulder may look different from the other side. If there is also a nerve stretch injury, there may be pins and needles sensation or numbness, usually around the shoulder region or down the arm.

What can you do?

First, protect the shoulder and prevent further injury and then, seek medical attention as soon as possible.

When to Seek Immediate Medical Attention

If you believe you have dislocated your shoulder, it is best to seek immediate medical attention. This is extremely important if you also have associated arm or hand weakness, numbness, or if the arm is turning blue or swelling after the injury as a blood vessel, nerve, or broken bone may also have occurred.

What can we do to help you?

If you sustain a dislocation, it is important to seek medical attention, even if the shoulder pops back into position on its own. You may need physiotherapy to help regain the function of the shoulder and to prevent it from dislocating again before returning to activities and sport.

Some cases may require surgery to prevent recurrent dislocation or if there is bone injury during the dislocation. After a short period of immobilization and rest, you will be directed to gradually increase your range of motion of the shoulder. Strengthening the rotator cuff muscles which support the shoulder joint may help prevent recurrences.