Shoulder Instability

Shoulder instability is a chronic condition that causes frequent dislocations of the shoulder. A dislocation occurs when the end of the humerus (the ball portion) partially or completely dislocates from the glenoid (the socket portion). A partial dislocation is referred to as a subluxation whereas a complete separation is referred to as a dislocation.

Common symptoms of shoulder instability include pain with certain movements of the shoulder, popping or grinding sounds, swelling, and bruising of the shoulder immediately following subluxation or dislocation. Visible deformity or the loss of function, numbness or paralysis can also occur.

The risks factors that increase the chances of developing shoulder instability include:

  • Injury or trauma to the shoulder
  • Falling on an outstretched hand
  • Repetitive overhead sports such as baseball, swimming, volleyball or weightlifting.
  • Loose shoulder ligaments or an enlarged capsule.

The goal of conservative treatment for shoulder instability is to restore stability, strength and range of motion.

  • Closed reduction: Following a dislocation your orthopedist can often manipulate the shoulder joint, usually under anesthesia, realigning it into proper position.
  • Medications: Over the counter pain medicines and NSAID’s can help reduce pain and swelling. Steroid injections may also be administered.
  • Rest: Rest the injured shoulder and limit activities that require overhead motion. A sling may be worn for two weeks to facilitate healing.
  • Ice: Ice packs should be applied to the affected area for 20 minutes every hour.

When these conservative treatments fail to relieve shoulder instability your surgeon may recommend shoulder stabilization surgery. Shoulder stabilization surgery is done to improve stability and function to the shoulder joint and prevent recurrent dislocations. It can usually be performed arthroscopically, depending on your particular situation, with much smaller incisions. The benefits of arthroscopy compared to open shoulder surgery are smaller incisions, minimal soft tissue trauma and less pain leading to a faster recovery.

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