The shoulder is very complex and highly functional joint where three distinct bones come together and are joined by a set of powerful muscles and ligaments. This joint represents the intersection between the collarbone (clavicle), the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm bone (the humerus). This is the only joint in the body that can rotate a full 360 degrees, a task made possible by the four small, strong muscles that extend from the body and reach around the point of the shoulder, collectively called the rotator cuff.
What is a Dislocated Shoulder?
Partly because the shoulder is so complex and involves so many crucial moving parts, and partly because the arm and shoulder are so essential to almost every motion, the shoulder area is subject to injury when it’s hyperextended or traumatized. When the ligaments holding the humerus to the other two bones are strained or overextended, this is called a separated shoulder. When the head of the humerus is actually pushed out of the joint socket in the scapula, this is called a dislocated shoulder. A dislocated shoulder is a more severe injury than a separation, and dislocated shoulder treatment usually requires professional medical attention.
What Does a Dislocated Shoulder Look and Feel Like?
A dislocated shoulder usually results from a sudden and traumatic event, like an impact or fall. If the humerus has come loose from the scapula, any or all of the following things may happen:
1. The shoulder area may look visibly deformed or distorted.
2. The area may swell up and may become bruised and discolored.
3. The shoulder may be extremely painful, and the pain may get worse when it’s moved or touched.
4. The shoulder may not move at all.
5. There may be a feeling of numbness or tingling in the shoulder, the neck or the arm.
6. The muscles of the shoulder may spasm involuntarily, which can make the pain increase.
One of the primary problems with a potentially dislocated shoulder is that it’s difficult to diagnose on the spot. In the moment, a dislocated shoulder can be very hard to distinguish from a separated shoulder, a torn ligament, or a break in the any of the three shoulder bones.
Dislocated Shoulder Treatment
In any case, no matter what may be causing the deformity, tingling, pain, bruising, or immobility, there are very few reasons not to seek medical attention right away. Most of the problems that are likely to be causing these symptoms are serious, and a proper dislocated shoulder recovery won’t happen on its own. While waiting for medical help or traveling to the emergency room, here are a few steps that can reduce the pain and minimize the damage of a dislocated shoulder:
1. Apply ice to the area right away. This won’t bring the shoulder back into alignment, but it will keep down the swelling and fluid build-up that can make the problem worse. It can also slow internal bleeding and numb some of the pain.
2. Don’t move the shoulder. Keep it still. Unless you are a trained medical professional, don’t try to manipulate the shoulder or move the humerus back into the socket on your own. Just keep the area motionless and raised above the level of the heart.
Risk Factors for Shoulder Dislocation
Because of its rotation capability, the shoulder is far more likely to become dislocated than any other joint in the body. But there are a few other risk factors that further increase the possibility that the shoulder might become dislocated during a fall or impact. They include the following:
1. The nature of your sport. Sports that involve either contact (football, hockey) or falls (gymnastics, downhill skiing) are more likely to bring shoulder dislocation injuries than other sports.
2. Your gender. Men have shoulders that are more vulnerable to dislocation than women.
3. Your age. Teenagers and young people in their early twenties are more subject to shoulder dislocation than people who are thirty or older.
4. Your history of previous shoulder injuries. A dislocated shoulder that doesn’t heal properly is more vulnerable to dislocation in the future.
Dislocated Shoulder Recovery
A doctor who examines a dislocated shoulder will probably use an MRI, x-ray or ultrasound to learn more about the extent of the damage and any potential tearing or severing of the blood vessels, nerves and ligaments around the shoulder joint. The doctor may also gently manipulate the shoulder in order to work it back into the socket.
If no bones are broken, but the humerus has simply lifted away from the scapular joint, the joint will need to be realigned and any damaged nerves or ligaments may need to be surgically repaired. If the shoulder is broken as well as dislocated, the bones will to be reset and possibly pinned in place in order to heal properly.
In any case, full dislocated shoulder recovery will require careful attention to a doctor’s instructions and possibly a few weeks or months of physical therapy and range-of-motion exercises. In the best case scenario, the shoulder will recover completely and will eventually be able to rotate in all directions with no stiffness or pain.
Regardless of the nature or length of your course of treatment, it’s never a good idea to return too quickly to the sport or activity that led to the injured shoulder in the first place. Before resuming a training schedule or participating in any games or events, the shoulder should be completely healed and should be free of all tingling, stiffness, numbness, weakness or pain.
As with many other common sports injuries, strong, balanced muscle groups and a tight core can sometimes limit the serious problems that result from falls and impact. To build strength and prevent injury to the area around the shoulder, work on strengthening and conditioning the muscles in the back, the shoulders and the upper arms. Suspension and resistance training with the KB Duo and the KB Powerbands can help with this process. For more information about resistance training and equipment, visit the products tab towards the top of the website.