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Shoulder Dislocations

Woman holding her shoulder

The shoulder is the most commonly dislocated joint in the body. “The structure of the shoulder is such that it has great mobility, which allows athletes to swim backstroke and windmill pitch a softball,” explains Dr. Marci Goolsby, Primary Sports Medicine Physician. “The downside of this mobility is that the shoulder is more unstable than other joints.”

What is a shoulder dislocation?
The majority of dislocations occur when the humerus, or bone of the upper arm, comes out of the front of the shoulder joint. This can occur from landing on the shoulder or having the arm pulled backward when it is out to the side. Usually, a physician or trainer has to put the shoulder back in place. It is important to have an x-ray to make sure the shoulder is in place and there are no fractures.

Who is at higher risk for shoulder dislocations?
A recent 2010 study in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery showed that young men and elderly women were more likely to sustain a shoulder dislocation. In the elderly women, this usually occurred because of falls. In adolescents and young adults, shoulder dislocations most commonly occur from sports activities.

What should be done if you have had a shoulder dislocation?
Injury to the bones, cartilage, and other soft tissues of the shoulder can occur with shoulder dislocations. If pain or instability continues after initial treatment, further imaging with an MRI, and, sometimes, surgery may be required. Surgery may be recommended in young patients after an initial traumatic dislocation, because the likelihood of having another dislocation without surgery is high.

How should you do to avoid a shoulder dislocation?
It may be difficult to avoid a shoulder dislocation as they often occur from a fall or unexpected pull on the arm. If you have had a shoulder dislocation, it is important to be evaluated to see if surgery is recommended to prevent further episodes. Sometimes, a good strengthening program can prevent shoulder problems, particularly in a loose or unstable shoulder.


Dr. Marci Goolsby, primary care sports medicine physicianDr. Marci Goolsby is a primary sports medicine physician in the Women’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. She trained at the University of California Los Angeles, where she served as team physician for the UCLA women’s basketball, volleyball, softball, and baseball teams. She has also served as an event physician at marathons and triathlons. Her main areas of clinical and research interest are stress fractures and the Female Athlete Triad. As a prior collegiate basketball player, Dr. Goolsby also has a special interest in the care of basketball players. She is a consulting team physician for the New York Liberty.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.