The shoulder is an extremely mobile joint, with plenty of range of motion and flexibility thanks to its unique structure. However, while that mobility makes the joint extremely useful in performing many tasks, it also makes it more prone to injuries like dislocations. Shoulder dislocation occurs when the top of the arm bone, or humerus, slips partially or completely out of the joint socket that normally contains it.
Shoulder dislocations are primarily caused by sports injuries, falls, car accidents or other traumatic injuries. Over time, the strong bands of tissue that help support the joint and hold the bones in place can become weakened, resulting in an increased risk of dislocations, especially among those who use their shoulders frequently and among older men and women where age-related changes have caused the supportive tissues to weaken. This condition is sometimes referred to as chronic shoulder instability.
Dislocated shoulders are typically associated with pain and tenderness around the joint, bruising and swelling, and often, the shoulder joint appears misshapen. Dislocations can also cause pain, numbness and weakness radiating into the arm, especially if nerves are damaged. Pain localized solely to the shoulder blade region usually originates in the neck and not from a dislocation injury.
Once the shoulder is repositioned, a special sling may be prescribed to hold the joint in place and promote stability while the area heals. Anti-inflammatory medication can help promote healing in many patients, and physical therapy can also help restore strength and range of motion to the joint.
Many people with recurrent shoulder dislocations are tempted to slip the bone back into the socket on their own, but doing so risks additional tissue damage and increases the likelihood of more severe dislocations in the future. It's always better to have the shoulder evaluated and repositioned by a doctor to ensure the humerus is in its proper position so the tissues that support the joint can heal correctly.
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