Conditions & Treatments

Shoulder Dislocation

Dislocation of the shoulder means the displacement of the upper arm bone (humerus) out of the shoulder joint.

Shoulder Dislocation

What is dislocation of the shoulder?

Anatomy of the shoulder
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Dislocation of the shoulder means the displacement of the upper arm bone (humerus) out of the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is the most frequently dislocated major joint of the body often caused by a significant force that separates the shoulder joint's ball (the top rounded portion of the upper arm bone, or humerus) away from the joint's socket (glenoid). The shoulder can dislocate in several ways, including the following:

  • Forward and downward dislocation. These are the most common types of dislocations, which are usually the result of falling on an outstretched hand or on the shoulder itself.

  • Backward dislocation. This type of dislocation may be caused by a direct blow to the front of the shoulder, the violent twisting of the upper arm, a seizure, or electrocution.

In addition, a shoulder can be partially dislocated (the head of the upper arm is partially out of the shoulder socket) or completely dislocated (the head of the upper arm is completely out of the shoulder socket).

A dislocation can result in a fracture of the upper arm bone. Other complications may include the following:

  • Nerve damage

  • Damage to an artery

  • Muscle damage

What are the symptoms of a shoulder dislocation?

The following are the most common symptoms of a dislocated shoulder. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain in the upper arm and shoulder, which is usually worse during attempts at movement

  • Decreased motion 

  • Swelling

  • Numbness and weakness

  • Bruising

  • Deformity of the shoulder (in a forward dislocation)

The symptoms of a dislocated shoulder may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult a doctor for a diagnosis.

How is a shoulder dislocation diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for a dislocated shoulder may include an X-ray (a diagnostic test that uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film).

Treatment for a shoulder dislocation

Specific treatment for a shoulder dislocation will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the injury

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the injury

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment may include:

  • Moving the head of the upper arm bone back into the shoulder joint, usually after an anesthetic

  • Immobilization of the shoulder with a sling

  • Rehabilitation

  • Surgery if nonsurgical measures do not restore stability

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



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  • Pediatric Imaging
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    The Bone and Joint Imaging and Intervention Program at Massachusetts General Hospital Imaging offers state-of-the-art diagnostic exams including MRI and CT, interpretation by specialty-trained radiologists, and image-guided procedures for the bones, joints, and spine.
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  • Pediatric Orthopaedics
    The MassGeneral Hospital for Children Orthopaedics Service provides clinical care to infants, children and adolescents, from birth to college age, for the entire spectrum of musculoskeletal problems.
Department of Orthopaedics

  • Sports Medicine Service
    Our Boston Sports Medicine team provides comprehensive treatment and rehabilitation for sports-related injuries from recreational, amateur and professional sports. Our Harvard faculty specialize in ACL, MCL and meniscus injuries in athletes and non-athletes.

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