Because the shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body, it is also most susceptible to dislocation. Dislocation is the term used to describe an injury in which the long upper arm bone pops out of the rounded socket on the shoulder blade, or scapula. While dislocations are typically easy to treat, they can be severely painful and cause an unstable joint or other problems in the future. For this reason, medical treatment is necessary as soon as you suspect you may have dislocated your shoulder. If it occurs after hours, an emergency room visit is warranted.
Shoulder dislocations can result from a number of accidents or injuries. If your shoulder is hit hard during a sporting event or in a motor vehicle accident, dislocation may result. It’s also common to suffer a dislocation after a fall, whether your injury is sports-related (common in downhill skiing, rodeo, and gymnastics) or not (falls from ladders or down stairs may cause dislocation).
Shoulder dislocations can vary greatly from case to case. Because of the extensive range of motion in the shoulder joint, the dislocation can be downward, forward, or backward. You might suffer a partial dislocation or a more severe complete dislocation. The muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, and vessels nearby can be torn or injured as a result of your dislocation, causing additional complications and requiring additional medical treatment.
Evidence that you have may dislocated your shoulder and need medical attention include:
- A visibly deformed shoulder
- Very severe pain
- Immobility, or inability to move the upper arm
- Dark bruising or swelling
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling down the arm and/or into the wrist and hand
- Muscle spasms near the site
There are a few ways to protect yourself from further injury while awaiting medical assistance. Apply ice to the shoulder immediately following injury and continue to ice until you see a doctor. Take special care not to move the joint at all, which means you also shouldn’t move the affected arm.
If your doctor has recommended arthroscopic reconstruction to your shoulder, it is typically because either 1) there is injury to the rotator cuff, 2) there is injury to surrounding cartilage or tendon, or 2) the joint is unstable following your dislocation. It’s important to follow your doctor’s advice to ensure full healing of the shoulder joint.
During your arthroscopic reconstruction, tow or more very small incisions will be made near the shoulder. A narrow fiber-optic instrument with a small video camera on the end is inserted through one opening. The images are projected live on a television in the operating room, allowing the surgeon and other professionals to visually explore the changes to joint.
Surgical instruments are inserted into the other opening. Sterile fluid is injected into the shoulder to create more room to see and work. Using these instruments, the damage is repaired and then the incisions are stitched closed. Most patients are able to go home following the procedure. Your doctor may prescribe medications for pain and order ice application at certain intervals following the procedure. Recovery time depends on the procedure performed.