Search IconSearch

Shoulder Dislocation: How It Happens + 5 Things To Do if You Suspect It

Sometimes, it does require surgery

Dislocated shoulder X-ray

If you ever suspect you have a dislocated shoulder, don’t try to put it back in yourself. If you’re fortunate enough to be somewhere with access to a trained professional, such as a physician or athletic trainer, they may attempt to relocate it for you. This is certainly an urgent situation and warrants a visit to the emergency department.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“The biggest thing we want you to avoid is doing more damage to your shoulder by trying to fix it yourself,” says orthopaedic surgeon Salvatore Frangiamore, MD.

Who is at risk?

A significant injury causing shoulder dislocation is most likely to happen during a sports injury or a fall. It often occurs when your arm is outstretched and a sudden twisting or jerking motion occurs.

If you play football or participate in contact sports, you’re more susceptible. But it might happen during normal activities in your home — if you lose your balance and extend your arm to grab something to catch yourself, for instance.

“With traumatic injuries, the pain is often severe and there’s up to an 80% chance of recurrence in certain patient populations,” says Dr. Frangiamore.

“Surgery may be necessary for recurrent dislocations or for young athletes who are at higher risk of re-injury,” he adds.

Are you double-jointed?

Dislocation can happen without a significant injury if you are very flexible and suffer from atraumatic shoulder instability.

This is especially common in younger people involved in sports requiring more repetitive overhead motion in the shoulder such as swimming, volleyball or tennis, Dr. Frangiamore says.

“The sport may not cause the instability, but it will often uncover it,” he adds.

Those who are overly flexible (who may describe themselves as “double-jointed”) are also more prone to atraumatic shoulder instability.

In other words, your activities may prompt your shoulder to pop out of place or it may happen because of your body’s natural flexibility or looseness. It’s worth noting you don’t actually have double joints but a natural increased flexibility of soft tissue.

What should you do for a shoulder dislocation?

Dr. Frangiamore offers these steps for treating a dislocated shoulder:

  1. Immobilize the shoulder and ice it to help reduce swelling.
  2. Head to an emergency department for treatment as soon as you can. The doctor will attempt to relocate the shoulder without doing further damage.
  3. Wear a sling (this will most likely be recommended by the doctor) and rest your arm to allow the tissue to heal and the pain and swelling to subside.
  4. Limit motion to allow your shoulder to heal.
  5. Work with your doctor to develop a long-term plan to prevent future injuries. That may start with physical therapy to strengthen the shoulder, but it could include surgery also.

Through overuse or injury, nearly everyone experiences shoulder pain at some point in their lives. But immediate medical treatment after the injury and follow-up with your doctor can help prevent it from happening again.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

adult swimming freestyle in pool
May 17, 2022/Exercise & Fitness
Exercises and Tips To Help Prevent Swimmer’s Shoulder

Building shoulder strength can minimize your risk of injury

A man with silver hair and glasses holding his right shoulder wile grimacing in pain
March 4, 2022/Orthopaedics
Shoulder Pain: 11 Common Conditions and Causes

Don’t ignore obvious warning signs of more serious shoulder issues

man in pain after sleeping
January 13, 2022/Chronic Pain
How To Keep Sore Hips, Knees and Shoulders From Ruining Your Sleep

Find the right sleep position to tame your joint pain

woman with frozen shoulder
December 16, 2021/Orthopaedics
3 Exercises to Relieve Frozen or Stiff Shoulders

Here's how to loosen up those tight shoulder muscles

A person reaches back and grabs their shoulder because of discomfort.
November 29, 2021/Orthopaedics
Tips to Treat and Prevent Shoulder Bursitis

Stretching and eliminating stresses on the joint is key to stopping the pain

X-ray visual of a shoulder dislocation.
October 21, 2021/Orthopaedics
What’s the Difference Between Shoulder Dislocation and Subluxation?

The short answer from an orthopaedic surgeon

man with rotator cuff injury
December 30, 2020/Chronic Pain
How Can I Deal With Rotator Cuff Injuries If I’m Over 45?

The short answer from an orthopaedic sports medicine surgeon

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims