Dislocated Shoulder


The shoulder joint is an easy one to dislocate because it is our body’s most mobile joint. A dislocated shoulder can be categorized in two ways:

  • Partial Dislocation called subluxation – the head of the upper arm bone (humerus) is partially out of the socket (glenoid).
  • Complete Dislocation – the humerus is all the way out of the glenoid.

Both partial and complete shoulder dislocations are painful and cause immediate unsteadiness in your shoulder. A dislocated shoulder may tear ligaments or tendons, and even damage nerves in your shoulder. You will know if you have a dislocated shoulder if you feel:

  • Deformity
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Swelling
  • Weakness
  • Bruising

For throwing athletes, a shoulder dislocation where the upper arm bone moves forward and out of its socket is common. The shoulder joint can dislocate forward, backward, or downward. The muscles may have spasms when dislocated and this will cause pain. Some patients suffer from repeated shoulder dislocations, resulting in recurrent shoulder instability.

Diagram for Shoulder

Shoulder Diagram

Highlighting the Humberus and Glenoid where dislocations of the shoulder happens.


Dr. Stowell will examine your shoulder and may order an X-ray. He will ask you how it happened and if you have any history of shoulder dislocations. He will place the ball of the upper arm bone (humerus) back into the socket in a process called closed reduction. Severe pain will stop almost instantly once your shoulder joint is back in place.

Dr. Stowell may immobilize your shoulder in a sling for several weeks. You will need plenty of rest and may ice the sore area 3 to 4 times a day to reduce inflammation. Once your pain and swelling go down, Dr. Stowell will recommend rehabilitation exercises for you. It is imperative for you to be consistently diligent with your rehabilitation to help prevent shoulder dislocation again in the future. Restoring your shoulder’s range of motion and strengthening its muscles will be key to a successful rehabilitation.

If shoulder dislocation continues to be reoccurring, therapy and bracing may help; however, if it is unsuccessful, Dr. Stowell may recommend surgery to repair or tighten the torn or stretched ligaments that help hold the joint in place. If Dr. Stowell identifies bone damage due to a recurring dislocating shoulder, he may recommend a bone transfer type of surgery.

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