Health conditions

Shoulder dislocation

A dislocated shoulder occurs when the ball of the upper arm bone comes out of the shoulder socket.

This disables the shoulder joint causing a considerable amount of pain.

It is usual for the joint to dislocate forwards and downwards, but sometimes it may dislocate backwards.

Once a shoulder has been dislocated it may happen again.

The more times it happens, the easier it is for the joint to dislocate in the future.

Do:

  • if this is your first dislocation, reduce movement in the shoulder by resting the arm in a sling for up to three weeks
  • if this is not your first dislocation, rest your arm in a sling until the pain has subsided
  • use pain relief as directed
  • apply the ice pack four times a day for 20–30 minutes
  • start some early exercises, particularly of the elbow and hand, with small movements of the shoulder to avoid stiffness
  • keep the arm in front of your body at all times for at least four weeks.

Do not:

  • lift the injured arm above or behind your head as this may cause the shoulder to dislocate again
  • play any contact sports until your clinician says you can
  • drive or operate machinery with a sling, it is illegal and you may not be covered by insurance.

The shoulder joint may take up to 12 weeks to heal.

However, some people who suffer from repeated dislocations may require an orthopaedic referral to discuss the need for surgical intervention to help stabilise the joint.

See your family GP or go to an emergency department if any of the following develop:

your arm becomes numb, pale or cold to touch

your shoulder pain gets worse despite taking painkillers

your shoulder dislocates again

there is a tingling or decreased sensation in your hand.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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