What to Do If You Suspect You’ve Dislocated Your Shoulder

Orthopaedic Associates of Reading offers urgent orthopaedic care at our Wyomissing office, which is open between 11 am and 7

Experts estimate that 2%-8% of the general population in the United States has a shoulder dislocation each year. Despite what you may have seen in movies, shoulder dislocation is a fairly serious injury, and it requires medical care.

What happens when your shoulder is dislocated

Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint, meaning the upper part of your arm bone ends in a ball shape. That ball fits into a depression in your shoulder blade that’s commonly called the socket.

The depression in your shoulder blade is quite shallow compared to other ball-and-socket joints such as your hip. The shallow socket allows for the amazing mobility of your shoulder. You can move your arm forward, backward, across your chest, up, down — it’s an impressive joint.

Because the depression where the ball part of the joint sits is shallow, a complex web of tissues and muscles holds it in place. Tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and muscles all work together to keep your shoulder joint moving.

When you experience trauma to your shoulder, such as a fall or throwing a ball too hard or too fast, that network of soft tissues may stretch too far or tear, allowing the ball to slip either partially or fully out of the socket. When that happens, you have a dislocated shoulder.

What you should do immediately

If you have a dislocated shoulder, whether it’s a partial or full dislocation, you feel pain. There’s a good chance that the soft tissues around your shoulder have been stretched or torn, and that hurts.

Apply ice right away. That should help with swelling and pain.

Don’t try to move your arm — this could cause additional damage. Instead, keep your arm close to your body.

You may take an over-the-counter pain reliever such as ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen, depending on whether you take other medications and on your overall health. 

 

Most important, seek medical care immediately. Orthopaedic Associates of Reading offers urgent orthopaedic care at our Wyomissing office, which is open between 11 am and 7 pm, Monday through Friday. You don’t need an appointment for urgent care.

If you’re hurt outside our hours of operation, go to an emergency room, and then follow up with us.

What to expect

Properly trained medical professionals can put the ball back into your socket. They administer medication so this isn’t painful. You need to wear a device to immobilize your arm for a while.

The most appropriate treatment after that depends on numerous factors, including your age, whether you’ve dislocated your shoulder before, and the severity of your dislocation. One of the reasons we advise you to follow up with OAR is that we provide individualized care, based on your specific injury and situation.


If you’ve dislocated your shoulder, or suspect you have, get care right away. Then, book an appointment at OAR. We have three convenient locations, and you can book online or call to schedule an appointment at the one nearest you.

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