Shoulder Dislocation - Symtoms and Management

on Monday, 09 April 2012. Posted in Exercises for diseases, Editor's Pick, Exercise and Fitness Written By: Dr. Vindhya Asthana

Shoulder Dislocation - Symtoms and Management

Dislocating a shoulder is one of the many common bone and joint problems people face. A small fall or a sudden, direct or indirect hit is likely to dislocate your shoulder joint, causing you immense pain. While a dislocated shoulder is often easy to identify, sometimes, the symptoms might not be as obvious. Under such circumstances people continue to take numerous treatments without even realising that they might have a dislocated shoulder.

The arm bone and the shoulder bone couple together to form a joint in the shape of a ball and socket. Whenever the shoulder is subjected to a direct violence or an indirect hit, it is most likely to dislocate from its place. Quite often one may not even think of a dislocation underneath as more measures are being taken to treat the pain.

Hence, let us find out the clinical signs of shoulder dislocation, the need to see a doctor and the complications associated with it.

Immediate clinical symptoms

  • Pain: Immediately there is an intense sickening pain at the site, which becomes worse and the patient experiences a tearing sensation.
  • Deformity: An obvious change in the loss of normal contour of the shoulder can be visibly noticed. However, on occasions there can be a fracture also due to which the deformity is often overlooked.
  • Loss of movement: As pain progresses, the patient is just not able to perform movements of the entire arm, forearm, shoulder and upper back.

Later clinical symptoms

  • Swelling: Due to fall or a hit, there are a series of events taking place in shoulder joint starting from tearing of soft tissues followed by a consequent inflammatory reaction, release of irritating chemicals and lot of inflammatory fluids.
  • Bruising: Injured blood vessels often result in bruising.
  • Stiffness: Adhesions develop within the joint, restricting further movements.
  • Muscle weakness: As the arm rests, there is a slow and steady loss of strength in the muscles of shoulder joint, but this can be taken care of during rehabilitation.

Managing shoulder dislocation

The management of shoulder dislocation differs with the age of the patient.

For elderly patients: The cause of dislocation in the elderly could be relatively trivial as the muscles may have weakened and might not be good enough to support the shoulder joint. For such patients, the emphasis should be on regaining the movement and function.

The initial treatment should be gentle finger, elbow and shoulder movements followed by mild heat. Thereafter, a physical therapy regime should start to mobilize the patient as soon as possible.

For younger patients: In these patients there is less risk of development of stiffness as compared to elderly; hence shoulder can be strapped to the chest to allow soft tissue healing and restore the blood circulation.

During this time some static contractions of the muscles can be done. Once the strap is removed, modalities for pain relief and intensive shoulder strengthening exercises in subsequent weeks can be done to ensure regaining the lost power and functions of the joint. The patient can also perform all functional daily activities.


Shoulder dislocation if not managed properly and timely may lead to complications such as:

  • Associated fracture of collar bone or arm bone.
  • Recurrent dislocation (redislocation) due to improper healing of earlier one.
  • Damage to the nerve supplying shoulder joint and arm.

Therefore, timely action and subsequent care is a must for speedy and proper recovery.

 This article has been contributed by Physiotherapist; Dr. Vindhya Asthana. To ask a query contact Dr. Asthana through our section - Ask The Tzars or write in to her at - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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