Shoulder Dislocation

The shoulder is the most frequently dislocated joint in the body. The ball and “flat” socket configuration of the joint allows a large range of motion but sacrifices stability. A shoulder dislocation usually occurs from a traumatic injury that forces the ball out of its socket. On occasion, the shoulder slides back into place on its own. Most of the time the shoulder needs to be put back into place in the hospital with medication to help relax the muscles. Once the shoulder is back in place, patients are usually put into a sling for a couple of weeks to allow the shoulder to heal. Unfortunately, the torn tissue with the joint does not always heal enough to restore stability to the joint. Therefore, if someone dislocates their shoulder once, there is a good chance that it will happen again. Physical therapy aimed at strengthening the muscles that help to stabilize the joint may be all that is needed to keep the shoulder from dislocating again.

Surgical treatment of a shoulder dislocation depends on what is injured in the shoulder. X-rays and an MRI are done to look for what is injured inside the joint. Surgery to fix the shoulder can be done arthroscopically through small incisions most of the time. Surgery is aimed at repairing the small bumper of tissue, called the labrum, that tears off of the socket. On occasion, an open surgery may need to be done to repair the labrum or to fix bone fragments that have broken off the socket to improve stability. If the bone on the socket wears away from repeated shoulder dislocations, bone from another part of the body may be needed to reconstruct the socket to make the shoulder stable again.

After surgery, patients are placed in a sling to protect the shoulder for 4 weeks. Patients then begin a controlled physical therapy program and return to sports often takes 5-6 months.

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