Shoulder dislocation explained
A dislocation can affect any joint when one or more of the bones separate from their usual alignment, but shoulders become dislocated more frequently than any other joint in your body.
Your shoulder has three joints, and they can all become dislocated. However, “shoulder dislocation” refers to the upper arm bone moving out of the socket, a painful condition caused by falls, accidents, and sports activities.
You can suffer a partial or complete shoulder dislocation. The arm bone can move out of the joint in a forward, backward, or downward direction. Forward (anterior) dislocations are the most common, while downward dislocations rarely happen.
Other tissues in the shoulder can be damaged when the bone dislocates, potentially stretching or tearing ligaments, tendons, nerves, and blood vessels. If the force causing the dislocation is powerful enough, you may be among the 30% who also suffer a shoulder fracture.
Recovery time for a dislocated shoulder
When treating a dislocation, we put the arm bone back into the joint. In most cases, we reconnect the joint without surgery, using a local anesthetic and manually repositioning the bone.
You may need surgery if other tissues are damaged, if you’ve had more than one dislocation, or if your shoulder fractures during the dislocation.
Recovery time varies, depending on factors such as:
- Age and overall health
- Type of dislocation
- Severity of tissue damage
- History of shoulder injuries
- Adherence to rehabilitation exercises
After putting the bone back in place (with or without surgery), your recovery includes:
It’s essential to rest your shoulder and give the tissues time to heal. We typically use a sling or brace to immobilize your arm and shoulder. If you have a partial dislocation without tissue damage, you may only need to wear a sling for a few weeks. Otherwise, you need to rest the joint for up to six weeks.
After we determine that you can start moving the joint again, the next step in your recovery is physical therapy. You follow a personalized exercise regimen to rebuild muscle strength, improve the shoulder’s flexibility and range of motion, and prevent future injuries.
People with partial dislocations may regain shoulder function in 4-6 weeks, especially if they keep up with their exercise regimen at home. However, many shoulder dislocations need at least 4-6 weeks of physical therapy. Your rehabilitation takes longer if you had surgery or suffered a fracture.
With immobilization and physical therapy, recovery lasts 8-12 weeks, or up to six months after surgery. At this stage, you’re ready to get back to most activities.
Though recovering from a dislocated shoulder takes time, you should never rush the process. Keeping up with your physical therapy and exercises is the key to restoring your shoulder and returning to your pre-injury activities.
The team at ROC specializes in treating shoulder dislocations, helping each person regain shoulder function in the shortest possible time.
Don’t wait to seek help for a painful or injured shoulder. Call the office nearest you — in Tualatin or Oregon City, Oregon — to make an appointment right away.