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.
How Do I Know If My Shoulder Is Subluxed?
Symptoms of a shoulder subluxation include:
- Joint instability
- Arm weakness
- Numbness or tingling down the arm
- Visible deformity of the shoulder
- Difficulty moving the shoulder
How serious is a shoulder subluxation?
The severity of a shoulder subluxation can vary depending on the extent of the dislocation and any associated injuries. In some cases, a shoulder subluxation may be relatively minor and may resolve with rest, ice, and physical therapy. In other cases, a shoulder subluxation may be more severe including dislocation, rotator cuff injury, and arthritis. It may require medical intervention, such as reduction (putting the shoulder joint back into place) or surgery.
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
What Is the Best 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:
- Rest: Resting the shoulder and avoiding activities that may cause further injury can help the shoulder heal and prevent further subluxations.
- Ice: Applying ice to the shoulder can help reduce swelling and pain.
- Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications to relieve pain and inflammation
- Compression: Wearing a compression bandage or sling can help stabilize the shoulder and support the joint.
- 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, strengthen shoulder muscles, and prevent scarring.