Dislocated Shoulder | Shoulder Instability & Pain | Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia | MedStar Health

Comprehensive care

Our team of orthopedic surgeons offer the most specialized expertise in shoulder care of any orthopedic center in the region. Our specialists are fellowship-trained in shoulder surgery and are dedicated entirely to treating shoulder conditions. Your orthopedic surgeon will spend time with you to determine the cause of your dislocated shoulder or shoulder instability and make sure you fully understand your condition and treatment options. We specialize in the most advanced procedures to help you regain strength and range of motion after experiencing a shoulder dislocation. Our goal is to heal your injury and return you to your normal level of activity, free of pain.

What causes shoulder pain?

It can result from a wide range of possible causes, including shoulder fractures. When your pain is accompanied by a “loose” feeling and lack of range of motion, it may be due to dislocation or instability.

Shoulder Dislocation

A dislocation occurs when the top of the upper arm bone moves out of the shoulder joint socket. Because this joint is so mobile, it can be very easy to dislocate the bone from the socket. The top of the upper arm bone (humerus) can partially or completely come out of the socket (glenoid).

Shoulder Instability

This condition develops when your muscles and ligaments are not strong enough to hold the shoulder bones securely in the socket. This can lead to multiple painful dislocations or prevent you from using the shoulder or lifting your arm.

What causes shoulder dislocation or instability?

Dislocations can occur as a result of any of the following events:

  • Fall from a height
  • Car accident
  • Strong contact during sports

Shoulder instability can develop as a result of:

  • Previous shoulder dislocations: The more often you experience shoulder dislocations, the less stable it becomes.
  • Loose ligaments: Ligaments are the tissues that bind bones together. Shoulder ligaments can either be naturally loose or become loose over time, especially if you repeatedly bring your arm up over your head, as in swimming or tennis.

What are the symptoms of shoulder dislocation or instability?

People with a dislocated shoulder may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Bruising
  • Instability
  • Muscle spasms

Someone with shoulder instability may experience numerous dislocations, along with any of the following symptoms:

  • “Loose” feeling in the shoulder
  • Shoulder pain
  • Trouble lifting your arm

How is shoulder dislocation or instability diagnosed?

Our orthopedists are highly skilled in diagnosing and treating pain, dislocation, and instability. Our initial exam will generally include:

  • Medical history evaluation – This includes asking questions about previous shoulder injuries and dislocations. It can also include questions about whether you have other medical problems, and if you take any medications.
  • Physical exam – Your orthopedist will examine your shoulder and arm to evaluate your pain and sensitivity, strength, range of motion
  • Imaging tests – Your doctor may want to examine the bones and joints themselves using a variety of imaging techniques, including:
    • X-ray, which can help determine if you have any broken bones
    • MRI, which uses powerful magnets and computer technology to create a picture of your muscles, tissues, and nerves to show if you have any tissue damage

What are the best treatment options?

Most cases of shoulder instability or dislocation respond well to conservative treatment involving the following:

  • Rest
  • Intensive physical therapy
  • Anti-inflammatory and pain medication
  • Avoiding activities that previously resulted in shoulder dislocations

In cases where non-surgical methods are unsuccessful, surgical options are available to help regain shoulder function, including:

Our providers

female patient is getting bandage wrapped around her foot by a male orthopaedic specialist

Expert orthopedic care

Getting the care you need starts with seeing one of our orthopedic specialists.