A shoulder subluxation is a partial shoulder dislocation, which happens when the ball of the upper arm bone (the humerus) comes partially out of the shoulder socket.
It is different from a complete shoulder dislocation in which the upper arm bone completely leaves the socket, though symptoms may be similar.
A medical professional can manipulate the bones to reposition the shoulder into the proper position (closed reduction) without surgery in minor cases. In severe or recurrent cases, surgery may be needed.
Shoulder subluxation can take 12 to 16 weeks to fully heal. By week 12 patients can return to sports on a limited basis, and fully return to sports and other activities as tolerated at 16 weeks. It is important to allow the shoulder to fully heal to help prevent future injuries.
What Causes Shoulder Subluxation?
A shoulder subluxation is usually caused by:
- Injury or trauma, such as from a fall
- Repetitive strain of the shoulder joint, such as from:
- Certain sports that require repetitive overhead motion, such as tennis, baseball, swimming, and volleyball
- Jobs that require repetitive overhead work
- Multidirectional instability
- Certain people may have naturally loose ligaments
- Shoulder subluxation can occur without a history of injury or repetitive strain
- Stroke can cause muscle weakness which can lead to shoulder subluxation
How Is Shoulder Subluxation Diagnosed?
A shoulder subluxation is diagnosed with a physical examination and patient history.
Imaging tests may be used to confirm a diagnosis and identify other possible problems.
What Is the Treatment for Shoulder Subluxation?
If a shoulder subluxation is minor, the shoulder bone may move back into place on its own. Patients are not advised to attempt to force the shoulder back into position on their own because it may cause further damage.
A medical professional can manipulate the bones to reposition the shoulder into the proper position (closed reduction) without surgery.
Once the shoulder is back in place, it should be immobilized for up to two weeks.
Other treatments include:
- Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications to relive pain and inflammation
- Physical therapy to strengthen shoulder muscles
In severe cases, or in patients who have recurrent shoulder subluxations, surgery may be needed to repair torn or stretched ligaments. Following surgery, the shoulder will be immobilized with a sling. Once the sling is removed, rehabilitation exercises can begin to improve the shoulder’s range of motion, to strengthen shoulder muscles, and to prevent scarring.
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