You most likely dislocated your shoulder from a sports injury or accident, such as a fall.
You have likely injured (stretched or torn) some of the muscles, tendons (tissues that connect muscle to bone), or ligaments (tissues that connect bone to bone) of the shoulder joint. All of these tissues help keep your arm in place.
Having a dislocated shoulder is very painful. It is very hard to move your arm. You may also have:
Some swelling and bruising to your shoulder
Numbness, tingling, or weakness in your arm, hand, or fingers
What to expect
If this is the first time you dislocated your shoulder, you will probably not need surgery.
In the emergency room, your arm was placed back (relocated or reduced) into your shoulder socket.
You likely received medicine to relax your muscles and block your pain.
Afterward, your arm was placed in a shoulder immobilizer for it to heal properly.
You will have a greater chance of dislocating your shoulder again. With each injury, it takes less force to do this.
If your shoulder continues to partly or fully dislocate in the future, you may need surgery to repair or tighten the ligaments that hold the bones in your shoulder joint together.
To relieve your symptoms
Put an ice pack on the area right after you injure it.
Do not move your arm.
Keep your arm close to your body.
Do not place rings on your fingers until your doctor tells you it is safe to do so.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Talk with your doctor before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the medicine bottle or by your doctor.
Do not give aspirin to children.
Your doctor will:
Tell you when and for how long to remove the splint for short periods.
Show you gentle exercises to help keep your shoulder from tightening or freezing up.
After your shoulder has healed for 2 to 4 weeks, you will be referred for physical therapy.
A physical therapist will teach you exercises to stretch your shoulder and will make sure you have good shoulder movement.
As you continue to heal, you will learn exercises to increase the strength of your shoulder muscles and ligaments.
Do not return to activities that place too much stress on your shoulder joint without asking your doctor first. These activities include most sports activities using your arms, gardening, heavy lifting, or even reaching above shoulder level.
Most people can return to normal activity in 4 to 6 months.
See a bone doctor (orthopedist) in a week or less after your shoulder joint is put back into place. This doctor will check the bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments in your shoulder.
When to call the doctor
Call your doctor if:
You have swelling or pain in your shoulder, arm, or hand that becomes worse
Your arm or hand turns purple
You have a fever
Horn AE, Ufberg JW. Management of common dislocations. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Roberts & Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 49.
Leggin BG, Gaunt BW, Schaffer MA. Rehabilitation of Shoulder instability. Skirven TM, ed. In: Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: ElsevierMosby; 2011:chap 92.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.