When you experience a popping sensation or hear a popping sound emanating from your shoulder, it often indicates potential damage to one of the tendons or muscles. The shoulder joint, renowned for its impressive flexibility, is prone to dislocation as a result of its wide range of motion. Whether the shoulder is partially or completely displaced, a dislocation leads to pain and instability in the shoulder.
Unfortunately, some studies have shown that young athletes that suffer a traumatic dislocation have higher chances to experience recurrent joint instability. Keep reading to learn more about the causes behind shoulder dislocation as well as the treatment options to seek relief from this distressing and painful experience.
What Happens When Your Shoulder Dislocates?
The shoulder consists of the rounded top of the upper arm bone (humerus) fitting into a cup-shaped socket (glenoid) in the shoulder blade, hence why it’s called a ball-and-socket joint. In simple terms, a shoulder dislocation occurs when the humerus pops out of the glenoid in the shoulder blade.
During a shoulder dislocation, the ligaments—which are the tissues that connect the bones—normally holding the shoulder joint in place become stretched or torn. This allows the humerus to move out of its normal position within the socket.
What Are the Different Types of Dislocations?
Doctors and physiotherapists categorize dislocations in further detail, but there are mainly three types:
This type of dislocation occurs when the shoulder sustains a significant injury, forcefully pulling it out of its joint. Often, this traumatic dislocation requires medical intervention to put the shoulder back into its joint.
Unlike traumatic dislocations, atraumatic dislocations occur with minimal force or during everyday movements. In some cases, the shoulder may pop back into place on its own. However, individuals with this abnormal motion may experience frequent or even multiple daily dislocations, significantly impacting their quality of life.
Atraumatic dislocations are commonly associated with people who have naturally lax ligaments, often referred to as being “double-jointed.” Such individuals may notice hyperextension in their elbows and knees. Physiotherapy is typically the preferred treatment for this type of dislocation.
Positional Non-Traumatic Dislocation
This type of dislocation is characterized by individuals who can voluntarily dislocate their shoulders without any trauma or injury. Some may have initially performed dislocations as a “party trick” or recall always having shoulders that “fall out of joint.”
Positional non-traumatic dislocations are typically associated with hypermobility and altered motor control, where muscles around the shoulder and shoulder blade contract differently.
What Are the Causes of a Shoulder Dislocation?
A dislocated shoulder can occur when the arm experiences forceful twisting or pulling in an outward, upward, or backward direction. This sheer intensity of force literally pops the top of the humerus out of its socket, either partially or completely.
The force required to dislocate the shoulder is typically significant, such as a sudden blow to the shoulder or extreme twisting of the joint. What can cause sufficient force to dislocate your shoulder? A few of the most common causes are the following:
Sports injuries account for a significant number of shoulder dislocations. Contact sports like football and hockey often result in dislocated shoulders due to the physical impact involved.
Although contact sports account for the majority of the cases, other sports such as downhill skiing, gymnastics, and volleyball, can also contribute to shoulder dislocations.
Falls, especially when landing awkwardly from heights or tripping on objects like loose rugs, can leave you with a dislocated shoulder.
Shoulder dislocations are not limited to just sports-related incidents and falls. Trauma unrelated to sports, such as a forceful blow to the shoulder during a motor vehicle accident, can cause a dislocation.
How Do You Know If You Have a Dislocated Shoulder?
Anyone can dislocate a shoulder. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a dislocated shoulder to avoid further complications. While each person may experience different symptoms, there are common indicators to look out for, such as:
What Are the Complications of Shoulder Dislocation?
When a dislocated shoulder goes untreated, it can lead to various complications that can significantly impact your shoulder’s stability and overall function. These complications might include:
- Damage to nerves or blood vessels in or around the shoulder joint
- Tearing of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons that reinforce the shoulder joint
- Increased risk of repeat dislocations, especially if the initial injury was severe
How to Best Treat Shoulder Dislocation
After a thorough physical examination and medical history assessment with your healthcare provider, your specialist can explore the appropriate treatment options. Some of the available treatment plans for shoulder dislocation include the following:
Chronic shoulder instability is initially managed through nonsurgical methods. Nonsurgical treatment typically involves:
- Making lifestyle adjustments and avoiding activities that exacerbate your symptoms
- Medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen may be prescribed
- Strengthening the muscles surrounding the shoulder through physical therapy
If nonsurgical methods fail to provide relief or if there are recurrent dislocations, surgical intervention may be necessary, including arthroscopy or open surgery.
If you’re experiencing pain or discomfort in your shoulder or elbow, reach out to the Mobility Bone & Joint Institute today. Our specialists are here to provide personalized treatment and support for your recovery. Call our office at (978) 794-1946 or (603) 898-2244 to schedule an appointment or take advantage of our convenient walk-in clinic in Haverhill and Andover, MA, or in Salem, NH, open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Let us help you regain stability and find relief!