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Shoulder dislocations

Patient information A-Z

What is a shoulder dislocation?

A dislocated shoulder happens when your upper arm pops out of your shoulder socket. The shoulder is one of the easiest joints to dislocate because the ball joint of your upper arm sits in a very shallow socket. This makes the arm extremely mobile and able to move in many directions, but also means it is not very stable. Sometimes the surrounding tissues supporting the shoulder joint may also be overstretched or torn.

Shoulder dislocations may sometimes go back in on their own, or need a visit to hospital.

Why has my shoulder dislocated?

Accidents such as a sports injury or a fall can lead to a shoulder dislocation. Sometimes simply rolling over in bed can cause your shoulder to dislocate. This is more common if your joints are naturally more flexible.

X-ray showing a shoulder dislocation
x-ray shoulder dislocation

There is a higher risk of dislocating your shoulder again after your first dislocation. This is because the muscles and soft tissue holding the joint in the place can become stretched. It is very important you exercise to reduce the chance of this happening again.

Swelling can occur around the joint; this is normal and is a result of the disruption of the soft tissues during dislocation. Wearing a sling, rest and ice therapy can help reduce this.

Simple, over the counter pain killers will help to reduce swelling and pain. You may find sleeping upright with extra pillows for the first few weeks more comfortable.

You should:

  • Keep your elbow, wrist and fingers moving to prevent stiffness
  • Take simple, over the counter pain killers as required and seek GP advice if these are not sufficient.
  • Sleep propped up with pillows in the initial nights after the injury to help you feel more comfortable.

You should not:

  • Drive until you are safe to do so without the sling.
  • Miss your clinical appointment if a face to face consultation has been requested.
  • Participate in any rough contact sports, such as rugby, or strenuous sports, including netball and tennis, for three months to give the joint enough time to recover.

Please remember:

Contact your GP if your condition is not improving, or if your pain relief is not adequate. If your condition is worsening please contact the multi professional fracture clinic, call 01223 348299 or call 01223 257095.

For more information please visit the Fracture information website (opens in a new tab).

QR Code - Fracture info clinic website - shoulder dislocation
Use your camera app to direct you to the fracture info website.

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Cambridge University Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust
Hills Road, Cambridge

Telephone +44 (0)1223 245151