A dislocated shoulder means the upper arm bone (humerus) has moved out of the shoulder joint. It can cause pain, swelling, numbness and trouble moving the shoulder.
What is a shoulder dislocation?
If you have dislocated your shoulder, your upper arm bone (humerus) has moved out of your shoulder joint. This is the most frequently dislocated major joint of your body. Dislocation is often caused by a significant force that separates your shoulder joint's ball (the top rounded portion of your upper arm bone) from your joint's socket (glenoid).
What causes a shoulder dislocation?
Your shoulder can dislocate in several ways, including:
Forward and downward dislocation (anterior dislocation). These are the most common types of dislocations. They often result from falling on your outstretched hand or on your shoulder itself.
Backward dislocation (posterior dislocation). This type of dislocation may be caused by a direct blow to the front of your shoulder, or the violent twisting of your upper arm.
Your shoulder can be either partly or fully dislocated. Partial dislocation is when the head of your upper arm is partly out of your shoulder socket. Complete dislocation is when the head of your upper arm is completely out of your shoulder socket.
What are the symptoms of a shoulder dislocation?
Symptoms may be a bit different for each person. Symptoms may include:
Pain in your upper arm and shoulder, which is often worse when you try to move them
Numbness and weakness
Deformity of your shoulder
The symptoms of a dislocated shoulder may seem like other conditions or health problems. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is a shoulder dislocation diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will take a full health history and give you a physical exam. Diagnostic tests often include an X-ray.
How is a shoulder dislocation treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment may include:
Moving the head of your upper arm bone back into your shoulder joint (reduction), often with an anesthetic
Immobilizing your shoulder with a sling after reduction
Surgery, if nonsurgical methods don't restore stability
What can I do to prevent a shoulder dislocation?
Keeping muscle strength and flexibility can help prevent shoulder dislocations. Once your shoulder is dislocated, physical therapy may help prevent you from dislocating it in the future. By restoring your shoulder’s range of motion and physical strength, your risk for dislocation decreases.
How is a shoulder dislocation managed?
Once your shoulder has been placed back into the socket joint, your healthcare provider may advise you to keep your shoulder immobilized. This is done by using a sling or other device for a few weeks after treatment. Resting and applying ice to the affected area several times a day will help reduce your pain and swelling.
After your pain and swelling go away, you may need to do some rehab exercises to help restore your shoulder’s range of motion and strengthen your muscles.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Contact your healthcare provider if you have these symptoms:
Severe pain in your shoulder when you try to move your arm
Swelling, pain, or both that gets worse in your shoulder, arm, or hand
Your arm or hand turns purple or pale
You have a fever or chills
Shoulder dislocation can damage blood vessels and nerves that feed the arm and hand. Seeking medical care right away can improve the outcome.
Key points about shoulder dislocation
Shoulder dislocation means your upper arm bone has come out of your shoulder joint.
Your shoulder can dislocate forward and downward, and backward. It can be partly or fully dislocated.
A dislocated shoulder is very painful.
If you had a dislocated shoulder in the past, you are at greater risk for having it happen again.
After you have eased your early pain, rehab exercises will help you prevent future dislocation.
Maintaining muscle strength and flexibility can help prevent shoulder dislocations.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
News & Publications
Our publication keeps health care professionals up to date on the latest research and clinical advances from Mass General.
News and notes from the largest hospital-based research program in the United States
The Patient Gateway provides secure online access to your health information whenever you need it. Check upcoming appointments, communicate with your doctor’s office, review medications and pay medical bills—all seamlessly online 24/7.