Your shoulder can be forced out of its socket if sufficient force is applied up and back on your shoulder. A sudden blow while playing sports or a fall can be enough to cause a dislocation. For this to happen, the tissues that hold your shoulder joint in place must be stressed beyond their normal range of motion. Dislocations can be quite painful and the recovery time extensive. Here is what to expect from the treatment and recovery of this shoulder injury.
What Happens in a Dislocation
Large muscles cover the shoulder joint, holding it in place. Supporting the joint is the rotator cuff, which is made of four tendons that attach muscles to the bones in the shoulder. Ligaments attach to the bones to hold the joint together. When a dislocation occurs, one or more of these structures may be overstretched, torn or completely detached.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor will examine your shoulder and will see the changes in the position of bones and muscles. X-rays are used to show the extent of the injury, including bone fractures and ligament tears.
The severity of the injury will determine the treatment options such as:
- If the structures in the shoulder were stressed but not beyond their limits, your doctor will put the shoulder joint back into place and have you wear a sling while the soft tissues heal.
- If bone fractures, torn ligaments or tendons are involved, a shoulder surgeon will need to open up the shoulder joint and repair those tissues. Again, you'll wear a sling until the shoulder has fully healed.
Recovering from a Dislocated Shoulder
Recovery will take several months, whether the injuries from the dislocation were minor or severe. Ligaments and tendons take longer to heal than bones and tendons. Your doctor wants to make sure that the soft tissues have healed adequately before doing any physical therapy on your shoulder. A typical recovery process will look like the following:
- You'll wear a sling to immobilize your shoulder for a couple of weeks while the soft tissues heal. During this time, you'll do exercises to keep your hand, wrist and elbow flexible but you won't be allowed to move your shoulder.
- Once your doctor is satisfied with your healing, they will start you on passive physical therapy on your shoulder. The therapist will move your shoulder through its normal range of motion to restore its flexibility. You'll be shown how to do these exercises yourself at home but you still won't be able to use your shoulder for daily activities.
- After a few weeks to restore flexibility to your shoulder, you'll begin strength training. Again, you'll work with the physical therapist to build up strength in your shoulder muscles. As your shoulder strength returns, you'll be allowed to go without your sling and begin using your shoulder in daily activities.
The key to successfully recovering from a shoulder dislocation is patience, a disciplined approach to doing your exercises, and not overworking your shoulder which could result in a re-injury and a setback in your recovery.