How to Manage a Shoulder Dislocation

October 22, 2017 | Focus Surgery

It’s a rare Monday during football season when I don’t see a least one player injured with a shoulder dislocation.

While shoulder dislocation occurs in elite athletes, it’s frequently an issue for many aspiring ones too.

Often teens in their final years of school, university students, or weekend enthusiasts, these younger players put their bodies at risk every game they play.

That’s all fine – until you’re injured with a shoulder dislocation.

Understanding more about this injury – and its lifelong impacts – is essential if a healthy and fully functioning shoulder is what you’re after.

The Age/Injury Paradox of Shoulder Dislocation

You could be forgiven for thinking most shoulder injuries occur in elderly people.

True to a point, acute and chronic shoulder injury and pain is frequently found in people with more life experience.

Ironically, shoulder dislocation is commonly found in younger people. And it can have serious consequences if correct and timely diagnosis isn’t made.

If due care isn’t taken in treatment and recovery, the long term effects can be significant.

The problem with shoulder dislocation is the younger you are when it occurs, the greater the likelihood it will happen again.

The stats for this injury in younger patients are alarming.

If your shoulder dislocation occurs before the age of 25, you are 90 percent more likely to dislocate that shoulder again.

And it doesn’t stop there.

The more times shoulder dislocation occurs, the greater the amount of damage done to the cartilage.

The risk of early arthritis also spikes under these conditions.

With a prognosis like this, a focus on timely and accurate diagnosis or your condition by a shoulder specialist can make a big difference.

It’s also means it’s vital to have a sensible, tailored recovery plan that balances the science and biology behind the problem.

How to Manage a Shoulder Dislocation

When parents of teenage boys bring their injured sons with shoulder dislocations to see me, it’s usually after the acute injury has occurred.

At the time of dislocation, most patients will find themselves at the accident and emergency department.

Here their shoulder will be ‘popped’ back in by the resident specialist who will place the patient’s arm in a sling. And so the challenge of working with one arm begins.

By the time the patient is facing me, they are facing the aggravation and inconvenience caused by the dislocation.

Think soreness, loss of confidence in shoulder capacity, distraction from work, school or university studies, depressed moods, lack of sleep, growing levels of irritability.

I have treated more than one aspiring athlete whose confidence has hit rock bottom because of their shoulder injury.

The assurance I offer them (and their parents if they are school age boys) is that recovery is possible.

But it relies on accurate diagnosis, effective treatment and managing the recovery process well.

What’s the Recovery Process for Shoulder Dislocation?

I may sound repetitive, but the recovery process for shoulder dislocation starts with timely and correct diagnosis.

Your shoulder specialist may use a number of mechanisms to do this.

Yes, it’s easy to see a shoulder has been dislocated, however for treatment and recovery, we need to go deeper.

X-rays and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) provide a spherical view of the shoulder, ligaments and joint.

They also help quantify the damage done and allow your shoulder specialist to calculate the percentage risk that dislocation will recur.

Not a straight mathematical equation, calculating this risk is a complicated algorithm. If it’s done correctly, it will inform your next best steps in recovery from a shoulder dislocation.

Because of the outcomes I mentioned earlier – increased risk of dislocation recurring, early arthritis, and the risk of more cartilage damage, surgery for younger people is frequently a good option.

There are many reasons for taking this treatment pathway, however chief among them is the improved long term recovery outcomes.

Shoulder surgery of this nature is minimally invasive – usually just two to three small incisions (about a centimetre in length).

Followed up with physiotherapy and ongoing self-care, a good recovery is probable.

Final words…

Young people playing contact sports, or sports involving over the shoulder arm movement, aren’t the only ones affected by shoulder dislocation. It can happen to anyone, especially those with loose ligaments.

Regardless of the cause of your shoulder dislocation, accurate diagnosis by a focused shoulder specialist is key to navigating a pathway to recovery.

If you have questions about a specific shoulder condition, you can contact Dr Dan directly at Focus Shoulder Specialists on 08 8366 2226.

Dr Sommit Dan is a leading Adelaide shoulder specialist. He provides minimally invasive and more complex treatment for all shoulder injuries and conditions. An Australian trained orthopaedic surgeon and highly skilled in arthroscopic (keyhole) shoulder reconstructions, rotator cuff repair and shoulder replacement surgery, Dr Dan treats patients as people. His goal is to each person navigate the frequently challenging roadmap to recovery from shoulder injury, and empower them along the way.