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Symptoms of a Dislocated Shoulder

Unexplained shoulder pain could indicate a number of things, including a dislocation. Identifying a dislocated shoulder can sometimes be as simple as looking in the mirror. With an unexplained lump or bulge, the affected area may appear disfigured.

Other symptoms, on the other hand, usually indicate dislocation. A dislocated shoulder can cause muscle spasms in addition to swelling and severe pain. Your pain may be aggravated by these uncontrollable movements. Starting at your shoulder and moving up toward your neck, the pain may travel up and down your arm.

When to seek medical attention

If your shoulder has dislocated from its joint, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to avoid further pain and injury.

Do not move your shoulder or try to push it back into place while you wait to see your doctor. If you try to press the shoulder back into the joint on your own, you risk injuring your shoulder and joint, as well as the nerves, ligaments, blood vessels, and muscles in that area.

Instead, try to immobilize your shoulder with a splint or a sling until you can see a doctor. Pain and swelling can be reduced by icing the affected area. Ice can also help with internal bleeding and fluid buildup around the joint.

How do you know if you have a dislocated shoulder?

Your doctor will ask about the following during your appointment:

  • How did you get your shoulder hurt?
  • How long has your shoulder been hurting
  • What other symptoms you’ve experienced
  • If this ever happened before

Knowing how you dislocated your shoulder — whether from a fall, a sports injury, or another type of accident — can help your doctor assess your injury and treat your symptoms more effectively.

Your doctor will also assess how well you can move your shoulder and whether you experience any changes in pain or numbness while doing so. He’ll take your pulse to make sure there’s no artery damage. Your doctor will also look for any signs of nerve damage.

An X-ray will be obtained in most situations to evaluate the degree of your injuries. An X-ray will reveal any additional injuries to the shoulder joint, as well as any shattered bones, which are prevalent with dislocations.

Treatment options

Your treatment will begin once your doctor has a clear understanding of your injury. Your doctor will begin by performing a closed reduction on your shoulder.

Closed reduction

Your doctor will do this by pushing your shoulder back into its joint. To help alleviate any discomfort, your doctor may prescribe a mild sedative or muscle relaxant. After the reduction, an X-ray will be taken to ensure that the shoulder is in the proper position.

Your pain should go away as soon as your shoulder is lodged back into your joint.

Immobilization

Your doctor may use a splint or sling to keep your shoulder from moving while it heals after it has been reset. Your doctor will tell you how long you should keep your shoulder stable. It could take anywhere from a few days to three weeks, depending on the severity of your injury.

Medication

You may require pain medication as your shoulder heals and regains strength. Ibuprofen (Motrin) or acetaminophen may be recommended by your doctor (Tylenol). An ice pack can also be used to relieve pain and swelling.

If your doctor believes you need something stronger, he or she will prescribe prescription-strength ibuprofen or acetaminophen, both of which can be obtained from a pharmacist. They may also prescribe tramadol or hydrocodone.

Surgery

Surgical intervention may be required in severe cases. If a closed reduction has failed or if there is extensive damage to the surrounding blood vessels and muscles, this approach is used as a last resort. A dislocation can, on rare occasions, result in a vascular injury to a major vein or artery. This may necessitate immediate surgery. The capsule or other soft tissues may require surgery, but this is usually done later.

Rehabilitation

Physical therapy can assist you in regaining strength and increasing your range of motion. At a physical therapy center, rehab usually entails supervised or guided exercise. Your doctor will refer you to a physical therapist and give you advice on how to proceed.

The type and length of your rehabilitation will be determined by the severity of your injury. It could take a month or longer to schedule a few appointments per week.

You may also be given exercises to do at home by your physical therapist. They may advise you to avoid certain positions to avoid another dislocation, or they may suggest specific exercises based on the type of dislocation you had. It’s critical to do them on a regular basis and to follow any instructions given by the therapist.

You should not engage in sports or any strenuous activity unless your doctor says it is safe for you to do so. If you do these activities before getting clearance from your doctor, you risk further injury to your shoulder.

Home care

To relieve pain and inflammation, apply ice or cold packs to your shoulder. For the first two days, apply a cold compress to your shoulder for 15 to 20 minutes every couple of hours.

A hot pack on the shoulder is another option. Your muscles will relax as a result of the heat. You can use this method for up to 20 minutes at a time as needed.

Outlook

A dislocated shoulder can take anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks to fully recover.

After two weeks, you should be able to resume most daily activities. You should, however, follow your doctor’s specific instructions.

Your doctor’s advice is even more important if you want to return to sports, gardening, or other activities that require heavy lifting. If you participate in these activities too soon, you risk further injury to your shoulder and may be unable to do so in the future.

In most cases, it will take 6 to 3 months before you are able to engage in strenuous activity again. Depending on your job, this could entail taking time off or temporarily switching to a different position.

Consult your doctor to learn about your options. Your dislocated shoulder will heal properly if you take proper care of it, and you’ll be back to normal activities in no time.