Shoulder Dislocation

Shoulder dislocation occurs when the head of the humerus (upper arm bone) pops out of the shoulder socket of the scapula (the glenoid) because of a fall; a direct blow to the shoulder; forceful throwing, lifting, or hitting; or force applied to an outstretched arm, as in a football tackle.

Dislocation can be full or partial. Partial dislocation, also called subluxation, means that the head of the humerus slips out of the socket momentarily, then snaps back into place. Full dislocation means that the head of the humerus comes completely out of the socket.

Symptoms include pain, which can be severe; instability and weakness in the shoulder area; inability to move the shoulder; and swelling, bruising, numbness, or tingling around the shoulder, or in the arm or fingers.


Do not try to force the bones back into place. Immobilize the joint and seek medical care immediately. Delaying treatment can increase the chance of permanent damage to the shoulder joint.

Treatment includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for pain, along with rest and immobilization, and a regimen of 15 to 20 minutes of ice or a cold pack to the shoulder four times a day for the first two days. After the third day, use a heating pad for 20 minutes to relieve muscle soreness.

Surgery is rarely needed for a first-time dislocation. It is often needed for a shoulder that displaces repeatedly.


To help prevent a shoulder dislocation, do exercises to strengthen the muscles around the shoulder. Wear proper safety equipment and padding when participating in any sport, especially contact sports such as football, wrestling, and hockey.

Content on this page is for informational purposes only. If injured, please consult a physician.

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