What to do with a Dislocated Shoulder

It is as painful as it sounds. 

From swelling and/or bruising of the shoulder to a tingling sensation in your arm and/or hand, the symptoms of a shoulder that has dislocated do not just slowly appear.

When you experience a dislocated shoulder, you should know it.

The shoulder operates like a chair swiveling in place. A ball, which is the round top of the arm bone, fits into a groove located in your shoulder blade. The groove is referred to as the socket and when the ball separates from the socket, you have the classic case of a dislocated shoulder.

Dislocated shoulders typically happen because of a hard fall, whether the hard fall is the result of contact at a sporting event or if the hard fall occurred while working on the job or on home on a home improvement project.

You might have watched a movie that showed someone popping a dislocated shoulder back into place. In the real world, a shoulder dislocated from the socket requires a treatment and recovery regimen that involves weeks of both personal and professional medical therapy.

Before the First Appointment

Before visiting the doctor, you should record some information about your painful shoulder. Describe in writing what exactly happened, especially what caused the shoulder ball to dislodge from the joint. Write down every symptom, no matter how minor a symptom appears to you. You should let the doctor know about your medical history, particularly medical issues associated with the affected shoulder. Record every medication you take, as well as note any questions you want to ask.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

What type of tests do I need?

What treatment option(s) do you recommend?

How long will it take to heal my shoulder?

How do I prevent a future shoulder dislocation?

Will I have to stop playing sports?

Treatment Options for a Dislocated Shoulder

With one or more symptoms causing immense pain, you need to know what to do with a dislocated shoulder. Florida orthopedic shoulder specialist Dr. Peter Howard recommends having a physical examination conducted as soon as possible after first detecting the signs of a shoulder that has popped out of its socket. The specialist will closely inspect the shoulder for swelling and/or tenderness. An x-ray of the shoulder joint might reveal the ball has popped out of the socket, as well as show one or more broken bones near the shoulder area.

The results of an x-ray dictate how to treat the dislodged shoulder joint. Dr. Howard says your doctor may implement one or more of the following treatment options.

Immobilize Shoulder

One of the most important things to do with a dislocated shoulder is to stop the affected shoulder from moving. A specially designed splint worn for a few days or even weeks prevents the shoulder from moving and hence, allows it to heal. How long you wear a splint depends on the severity of the injury, as well as how soon after the injury you received a diagnosis.

Closed Reduction

It’s possible your doctor will gently manipulate the arm to move the ball back into the shoulder joint. If there is some pain and swelling, you might need a sedative or a muscle relaxer before the arm manipulation begins. When the ball returns to the socket, you should instantly feel less pain.


Medication like a muscle relaxant or a pain reliever makes you more comfortable during the recovery process. Pills are a complementary treatment strategy, not an end all, cure all antidote for a dislocated shoulder.


If you are diagnosed with a weak shoulder joint or you have experienced more than one shoulder dislocation, the specialist might recommend surgery to repair and strengthen the shoulder. Sometimes, surgery is needed to repair damaged nerves and/or blood vessels.

The treatment process is considered phase one of the rehabilitation process. After you receive initial treatment, a rehabilitation program should help you gain more strength in the shoulder, as well as prevent another shoulder dislocation.

Healing after Treatment for a Dislocated Shoulder

Expect to be an active participant during the rehabilitation process. The most important thing to remember involves resting your shoulder. This can mean missing time from work or refraining from participating in your favorite recreational activity. Mending a shoulder that has dislodged from the joint requires plenty of rest. Avoid lifting heavy objects and try not to sleep on the affected shoulder.

Eventually, you will slowly regain the range of motion of your shoulder. When the pain and swelling subside, you can perform light arm movement exercises to strengthen the arm and shoulder. A physical therapist will suggest specific exercises that should return your shoulder to full strength. A completely inactive shoulder can lead to stiff joints and a condition called a frozen shoulder, which occurs when the shoulder stiffens to the point that you cannot move it.