5 Things To Do if You Suspect Shoulder Dislocation

Apr 13, 2022

Joint dislocation is an injury that forces a joint in your body out of proper alignment. It usually happens as the result of a traumatic event, like a sports injury or a serious fall.

While it’s possible for any joint to dislocate, shoulder dislocation is the most common among adults. Your shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint with a wide range of motion, and its unique construction makes it susceptible to injury.

Dislocated shoulders are typically very painful. They often cause visible shoulder deformity, inability to move your arm, and significant swelling. 

Our care team at Cascade Orthopedics in Bonney Lake and Auburn, Washington, specializes in shoulder injuries. If you suspect that you’ve dislocated your shoulder, act quickly to accelerate healing. Here’s what to do first.

1. Don’t move your shoulder

Depending on your level of pain, you might be tempted to try to move your shoulder or force it back into place. Replacing a dislocated shoulder on your own is dangerous because you risk damaging the joint even more.

Instead, keep your arm and shoulder as still as possible. Splint or sling your arm immediately after suffering the injury, and keep it that way until you see a doctor.

2. Apply ice

Shoulder dislocation often causes significant swelling. If you dislocate your shoulder, apply ice to the area to help keep swelling and fluid buildup to a minimum.

Use a large ice pack wrapped in a towel, and place it over your shoulder. Leave the ice on your shoulder for up to 20 minutes at a time. 

3. Seek urgent medical care

Seek immediate medical attention if you think you have a dislocated shoulder. While immobilization and icing your shoulder can temporarily manage symptoms, you need prompt, professional care to realign your shoulder.

At Cascade Orthopedics’ urgent care center, we start by examining your shoulder and asking questions about how your injury occurred. If you have a dislocated shoulder, we may use gentle manipulation to put your shoulder joint back into position.

During your urgent care visit, we work with you to develop a treatment plan and schedule any follow-up appointments you may need.

4. Follow your recovery guidelines

Many people with dislocated shoulders need to wear a splint or sling to immobilize their shoulder as it heals. Depending on the severity of your injury, you might rest your shoulder for a few days or up to three weeks. 

We may also prescribe pain medication or a muscle relaxer to keep you comfortable.

In some cases, surgery may be necessary after shoulder dislocation. We might recommend surgery if you have a severe dislocation or if you have shoulder instability, a condition that increases your risk of suffering future dislocations.

5. Start physical therapy

No matter your individual treatment plan, physical therapy is an important part of healing from shoulder dislocation. You start guided physical therapy exercises after your splint or sling is removed, with the goal of gradually rebuilding strength.

Your physical therapist works with you to restore your arm’s range of motion. Targeted exercises help you build strength and stability in your shoulder, which helps reduce your risk of experiencing another dislocation after you heal. 

Shoulder dislocation is painful, but acting quickly can help you start healing faster. Send our office a message or book an appointment now.