Shoulder subluxation occurs when the arm bone partially dislocates from the shoulder joint. The head of the bone shifts forward, backward, or downward, causing it to come out of its socket partially. This injury can happen easily, particularly after a person repeatedly takes part in activities that require a wide range of motion such as throwing a softball or heavy lifting above the head. Shoulder subluxation can result in pain, weakness, swelling, numbness, and tingling in the arm. It can sometimes cause tears in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons around the shoulder joint.

Do Nothing

In some cases of shoulder subluxation, the shoulder will pop into place again on its own. When this occurs, there's generally intense pain while the shoulder pops out and back in again, but few to no symptoms afterward. Even so, it's wise to visit a doctor to ensure that the arm has relocated properly and that there is no further damage to muscles, tendons, joints, ligaments, or nerves in the shoulder area.

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Put the Arm In a Sling or Splint

After shoulder subluxation, it's wise to keep the arm still and avoid motion until a doctor can take a look. This helps to ensure that the shoulder doesn't fully dislocate and can reduce the chances of torn connective tissue around the shoulder joint. Placing the arm in a sling or splint is the best way to avoid overuse while waiting to see a doctor.

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Closed Reduction

In the event of shoulder subluxation, a doctor can put the arm bone back into place through closed reduction. The doctor may administer painkillers or anesthesia for this procedure, however, in some cases, it may be done without the use of either. During closed reduction, the doctor will slowly rotate the arm until it locks back into the socket. Following the procedure, the patient will need to wear a sling for several weeks and rest the shoulder.

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Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation

Following a closed reduction for shoulder subluxation, several weeks of physical therapy is often required to ensure proper healing and reduce pain associated with movement. A physical therapist may use several techniques including therapeutic massage, strengthening exercises, and ultrasound. In more severe cases, doctors may recommend several months of physical therapy.

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After the arm has been put back into its socket safely, doctors usually recommend that it stay at rest for a certain period -- often several weeks. A sling is the most recommended way to keep the arm still and avoid overuse of the shoulder joint. As time passes, the sling can usually be worn less until eventually it isn't needed at all.


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Although the pain associated with shoulder subluxation usually subsides after the arm has been put back into the shoulder, there are instances where the pain will continue and may radiate into the back or the arm. Sometimes this pain may be associated with a tear in the ligament, muscle, or tendon. Most doctors will suggest taking over the counter painkillers or anti-inflammatory medications, but in cases where these are not strong enough, doctors may prescribe higher-strength pharmaceuticals.


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Additional Support

Providing additional support to the shoulder joint is a good way to build strength back up in the arm and increase the range of motion more quickly. Many physiotherapists and sports therapists choose to tape up the shoulder with kinesiology tape after subluxation. This strong tape affixes around the problematic area and increases support of the limb.

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When healing at home, the best way to reduce the swelling associated with shoulder subluxation is to apply ice to the affected area on a regular basis. A doctor can recommend exactly how often and for exactly how long. Doctors may also recommend alternating ice with gentle heat.

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Flexibility Exercises

A doctor or physiotherapist may recommend a home exercise routine to increase flexibility and re-build strength in the arm and shoulder after subluxation. These exercises might include stretches or gentle repetitive movements with or without a small amount of added weight. Following these routines can increase the speed of healing and regain strength and motion.

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In severe cases, particularly when tears are present in the muscles, ligaments or tendons, patients may require surgery. Doctors can operate to repair tears or any other damage in the shoulder area. If one needs surgery, healing time is generally much longer than for other treatment methods, and the need for physical therapy and medication is much more likely.

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