Dislocated shoulder - aftercare
Shoulder dislocation - aftercare; Shoulder subluxation - aftercare; Shoulder reduction - aftercare; Glenohumeral joint dislocation
About Your Injury
You most likely dislocated your shoulder from a sports injury or accident, such as a fall.
You have likely injured (stretched or torn) some of the muscles, tendons (tissues that connect muscle to bone), or ligaments (tissues that connect bone to bone) of the shoulder joint. All of these tissues help keep your arm in place.
Having a dislocated shoulder is very painful. It is very hard to move your arm. You may also have:
- Some swelling and bruising to your shoulder
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm, hand, or fingers
Swelling, damage, or bone changes around the rotator cuff in your shoulder can cause pain that puts a kink in the activities of your life. Let's talk about shoulder pain. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that attach to the bones of your shoulder joint. The group allows your shoulder to move and keep it stable. The most common cause of shoulder pain is when rotator cuff tendons become inflamed or trapped in your shoulder. This is called rotator cuff tendinitis, or irritation of these tendons and inflammation of the bursa, small slippery fluid filled sacs that the tendons glide over. A rotator cuff tear, when one of the tendons is torn from overuse or injury, can also cause intense shoulder pain. Other causes of shoulder pain can include arthritis, bone spurs - bony projections, a broken shoulder bone, frozen shoulder, when the muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your shoulder become stiff, and shoulder dislocation. Most of the time, you can take care of your shoulder pain at home. Try putting ice on your shoulder for 15 minutes, then leave it off for 15 minutes, three or four times a day for a few days. Make sure you wrap the ice in cloth, so it doesn't give you frostbite. Take ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Slowly return to your regular activities once you start feeling less pain. Sudden shoulder pain can be a sign of a heart attack. Call Emergency Services if you have sudden pressure or crushing pain in your shoulder, especially if the pain starts in your chest, jaw, or neck. If you fall on your shoulder and feel sudden intense pain, you should see a doctor because you may have torn rotator cuff or dislocated your shoulder. If you have had shoulder pain before, try using ice and ibuprofen after exercising. Learn proper exercises to stretch and strengthen your rotator cuff tendons and shoulder muscles. Also, physical therapy can help. Make an appointment and talk about your options.
What to Expect
Surgery may or may not be needed after your dislocation. It depends on your age and how often your shoulder has been dislocated. You may also need surgery if you have a job in which you need to use your shoulder a lot or need to be safe.
In the emergency room, your arm was placed back (relocated or reduced) into your shoulder socket.
- You likely received medicine to relax your muscles and block your pain.
- Afterward, your arm was placed in a shoulder immobilizer for it to heal properly.
You will have a greater chance of dislocating your shoulder again. With each injury, it takes less force to do this.
If your shoulder continues to partly or fully dislocate in the future, you may need surgery to repair or tighten the ligaments that hold the bones in your shoulder joint together.
To Relieve Your Symptoms
To reduce swelling:
- Put an ice pack on the area right after you injure it.
- Do not move your shoulder.
- Keep your arm close to your body.
- You can move your wrist and elbow while in the sling.
- Do not place rings on your fingers until your doctor tells you it is safe to do so.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
- Talk with your health care provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
- Do not take more than the amount recommended on the medicine bottle or by your provider.
- Do not give aspirin to children.
Your provider will:
- Tell you when and for how long to remove the splint for short periods.
- Show you gentle exercises to help keep your shoulder from tightening or freezing up.
After your shoulder has healed for 2 to 4 weeks, you will be referred for physical therapy.
- A physical therapist will teach you exercises to stretch your shoulder. This will make sure that you have good shoulder movement.
- As you continue to heal, you will learn exercises to increase the strength of your shoulder muscles and ligaments.
Do not return to activities that place too much stress on your shoulder joint. Ask your provider first. These activities include most sports activities using your arms, gardening, heavy lifting, or even reaching above shoulder level. Motions such as reaching with your arm on the side and rotating to the back can make the shoulder more unstable.
Ask your provider when you can expect to return to your normal activities.
See a bone specialist (orthopedist) in a week or less after your shoulder joint is put back into place. This doctor will check the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your shoulder.
When to Call the Doctor
Call your doctor if:
- You have swelling or pain in your shoulder, arm, or hand that becomes worse
- Your arm or hand turns purple
- You have a fever
Phillips BB. Recurrent dislocations. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 14th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 47.
Smith JV. Shoulder dislocations. In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 174.
Thompson SR, Menzer H, Brockmeier SF. Anterior shoulder instability. In: Miller MD, Thompson SR, eds. DeLee, Drez, & Miller's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 40.
Last reviewed on: 6/8/2022
Reviewed by: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.