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Shoulder Dislocation Treatment Options

The shoulder is the most mobile joint in the body. It provides for movement in many directions and because of this mobility, the joint is unstable and at risk for dislocation. It is stabilized by a group of tendons and muscles called the rotator cuff.

Shoulder dislocations occur when the upper arm bone (humerus) comes out of its socket (glenoid) in the shoulder blade (scapula). It is an extremely painful and serious injury that can damage supporting tissues including the rotator cuff and the protective cartilage cuff called the labrum that surrounds the edge of the glenoid socket (Bankart Lesions).

A shoulder dislocation can also cause a Hill-Sachs lesion, a compression fracture of the humerus that occurs when the dislocated humeral head impacts against the edge of the glenoid socket. This can cause a divot in the bone and may increase the risk of recurrent dislocations.

Extreme force that impacts the joint can force the arm outward, upward or backward, causing the arm bone to pop out of its socket. Dislocations can occur from a fall, direct blow to the shoulder, or sharp twisting of the arm, as seen in sports injuries like football, baseball, basketball, and volleyball.

Treatment options for shoulder dislocation depend on various factors, including the type and severity of the dislocation. Here are some common treatment options:

  • Closed Reduction: This is the initial treatment for most shoulder dislocations. It involves manipulating the arm bone back into its socket. This procedure is typically done by a healthcare professional in an emergency room or a clinic. Pain medication or muscle relaxants may be given to ease the process.
  • Immobilization: After the shoulder has been put back in place, the arm may be immobilized using a sling or shoulder immobilizer. This helps to keep the shoulder stable and allows time for healing.
  • Pain management: Pain management for a shoulder dislocation is an essential aspect of treatment to help relieve discomfort and improve the patient’s overall comfort during the recovery process. This may include prescriptions pain medications, over the counter pain medications and icing to reduce inflammation and pain. Other options include heat therapy, topical anti-inflammatory creams and gels, and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) which is a non-invasive technique that uses low-voltage electrical currents to alleviate pain. It works by stimulating the nerves in the affected area and can be effective in managing shoulder pain.
  • Physical Therapy: Once the initial immobilization period is over, physical therapy is usually recommended to help restore shoulder strength, flexibility, and stability. Therapists will guide patients through exercises to improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles around the shoulder joint.
  • Surgical Intervention: In some cases, especially if the shoulder dislocation is recurrent or associated with severe injuries such as Hill-Sachs lesions and Bankart lesions, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair the damage and prevent future dislocations. It may be performed as an open or minimally invasive procedure. Arthroscopic surgery may also be indicated to repair damaged ligaments, tendons, or other structures in the shoulder joint to prevent future dislocations.
  • Rehabilitation: Following surgery rehabilitation is a critical step in the recovery process. Physical therapy and exercises are essential to regain shoulder function and prevent future dislocations.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Patients may need to make certain lifestyle modifications to reduce the risk of future shoulder dislocations. This may include avoiding certain activities that put excessive stress on the shoulder joint or using proper techniques when engaging in physical activities.
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