If you've never experienced a dislocated shoulder, you likely know someone who has. You may even have had a close call yourself. The shoulder joint is the most mobile joint in the human body, which also makes it the most susceptible to joint shoulder dislocation.
Shoulder dislocations occur when the ball of the upper arm bone (humerus) pops out of the shoulder socket, which is located in the shoulder blade (scapula).
While shoulder dislocation is a very serious shoulder injury, it's also a very common one. As one of the top board-certified orthopedic surgeons in the Pittsburgh area, Dr. Michael J. Rytel sees many patients each year who have suffered repeated dislocations in the shoulder joint, several of whom have required shoulder dislocation surgery.
It's extremely important to receive care for dislocated shoulders as soon as possible. If you suspect that you or someone you know has a dislocated shoulder, it's crucial to seek medical attention right away -- if left untreated, your first shoulder dislocation can become chronic shoulder instability, which may ultimately require shoulder instability surgery to repair.
Here are seven primary signs that may indicate that you've suffered a shoulder dislocation:
1. You've recently experienced shoulder trauma
Traumatic shoulder dislocation is one of the most common types of shoulder dislocation, especially during sports. It occurs when there is a sudden, dramatic force exerted on the shoulder joint, causing the ball of the upper arm bone to pop out of the socket.
Shoulder trauma often occurs as a result of a fall onto an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the shoulder, or a forceful pull on the arm. When it comes to athletes, this frequently happens during contact sports such as football, hockey, and lacrosse, but can also occur during non-contact sports such as volleyball and gymnastics.
Additionally, repetitive overhead motion in sports such as baseball and swimming can also lead to shoulder dislocation over time.
2. You see an obvious deformity in the shoulder area
When the shoulder joint is dislocated, the upper arm bone pops out of place and creates an obvious deformity. This deformity may look like the shoulder is sagging or drooping lower than usual. In some cases, the deformity may be visible even without moving the arm.
If you try to move your arm and it hangs limply at your side, this may also be a sign that the shoulder joint has been dislocated. This is because when the ball of the upper arm bone pops out of the socket, it severs the connection between the muscles and tendons that control arm movement.
3. You feel intense shoulder pain
Experiencing intense pain in your affected shoulder joint is one of the most common shoulder dislocation symptoms, and one of the clearest indicators that something is wrong. Shoulder pain caused by dislocation is typically described as a sharp, piercing pain. It may be so severe that it interferes with your ability to move your arm or even think straight.
In some cases, the pain may radiate down the arm and into the hand. This is because when the shoulder joint is dislocated, the nerves and blood vessels around the area can become stretched or compressed.
4. You feel numbness or tingling in the arm or hand
For the same reason that pain from shoulder dislocation may affect your arm and hand, you may also experience numbness or tingling. This is caused by the stretching or compression of nerves in the area.
5. You experience weakness in the arm or hand
Numbness and tingling are often accompanied by weakness, which can make it difficult to move the arm. In some cases, the arm may feel completely paralyzed. This is also due to compression in the nerves local to your affected appendage, which include:
- The axillary nerve, which controls movement in the shoulder
- The suprascapular nerve, which controls movement in the shoulder and arm
- The radial nerve, which controls movement in the arm and han
6. Your range of motion has decreased
Shoulder dislocation can also cause a loss or decrease in your range of shoulder motion. This means that you may not be able to move your arm as far as you normally could or that certain motions may become painful.
For example, if your shoulder is dislocated, you may not be able to lift your arm above your head or rotate your arm outward away from your body. Additionally, you may feel a sharp pain when attempting shoulder movement or trying to move your arm in certain ways.
7. You've experienced recurrent shoulder dislocations
Having a history of dislocations is one of the most significant risk factors for reinjury: If you've dislocated your shoulder before, you're more likely to experience it again in the future. This is because once the shoulder joint has been popped out of place during the initial shoulder dislocation, the surrounding muscles and ligaments can become stretched or damaged. This makes it easier for the shoulder to dislocate again in the future.
If you've experienced chronic shoulder dislocation or multiple, repeated dislocations, you may be dealing with a condition called shoulder instability. Chronic instability means that your shoulder joint is particularly loose and susceptible to popping out of place, compromising your shoulder stability and causing recurrent shoulder dislocation. Shoulder instability can be caused by a previous injury, genetics, or even wear-and-tear from aging.
Visit a Shoulder Specialist Near You
If you think you may be dealing with shoulder dislocation or instability, it's important to reduce pain and swelling and seek medical attention immediately. Dislocated shoulders cannot be treated at home and require professional intervention to ensure that the joint is properly reset and that the surrounding muscles and ligaments are not permanently damaged. In some cases of chronic instability, you may require surgical intervention to tighten the surrounding muscles and ligaments or to repair any existing damage.
Dr. Michael J. Rytel is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in the treatment of shoulder dislocation and instability. He has years of experience helping patients find relief from shoulder pain and get back to their everyday lives, from the moment you discuss your shoulder dislocation treatment options to your last physical therapy session.
If you're ready to receive care from the top sports medicine specialist Pittsburgh has to offer, schedule a consultation with Dr. Rytel today.