Shoulder Dislocation: How It Happens + 5 Things to Do if You Suspect It
When your shoulder pops out of place, prompt medical treatment is the key to recovery and can help you avoid similar injuries in the future.
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
A significant injury causing shoulder dislocation is most likely to happen during 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 orthopedic surgeon Brett McCoy, MD.
“Surgery may be necessary for recurrent dislocations or for young athletes who are at higher risk of re-injury,” he adds.
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. McCoy says.
“The sport may not cause the instability, but it will often uncover it,” he says.
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 is worth noting you do not actually have double joints but a natural increased flexibility of soft tissue.
Dr. McCoy offers these steps for treating a dislocated shoulder:
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.