Dislocated Shoulder

Blue ASI Austin Shoulder Institute Logo on white background

Your shoulder is your most mobile joint, and while that gives you an enormous range of motion, your shoulder is also the most frequently dislocated joint in the human body. 

In Austin, Texas, at Austin Shoulder Institute, Robert Graham, MD, provides state-of-the-art care and treatment for dislocated shoulders, relieving pain and instability while reducing your risk of future and recurring dislocations.

Illustration of shoulder pain caused by shoulder dislocation at ASI

What Is a Dislocated Shoulder?

The shoulder joint is capable of a wide range of motion, depending on a complex group of bones, ligaments, tendons, and other soft tissues for proper function. 

A dislocation occurs when the top of the upper arm bone (humeral head) wholly or partially slips out of the cup-shaped shoulder socket (glenoid). A dislocation can cause considerable pain in the shoulder, as well as recurrent instability of the joint. 

A partial dislocation is called shoulder subluxation.

Types of Shoulder Dislocation

In addition to partial and full dislocations, your shoulder can dislocate in different directions. 

Anterior dislocation (forward dislocation) is the most common type of dislocation. 

A posterior dislocation occurs when your humeral head shifts toward the back. 

Inferior dislocations are the least common type of this injury and occur when your humeral head moves down and out of the glenoid. 

What Are the Symptoms of a Shoulder Dislocation?

Symptoms of a dislocated shoulder vary based on whether the dislocation is full or partial, as well as the direction of the dislocation. 

For example, you may experience:

  • Pain and swelling
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms
  • Bruising
  • Weakness
  • Decreased range of motion

Dislocated shoulders typically have an abnormal appearance, like a lump at the joint, or your arm may hang at an awkward angle.

What Causes a Shoulder to Dislocate?

Several acute injuries, as well as structural irregularities in your shoulder joint, can lead to dislocation or subluxation.


Traumatic injuries that forcefully pull or push your humeral head out of the glenoid are common causes of shoulder dislocation. 

These shoulder injuries can also tear ligaments in your shoulder joint and your labrum — the ring of cartilage around the edge of the glenoid. Some labral tears are termed called Bankart lesions. 

You may also damage your shoulder muscles or break a bone.

Multidirectional Instability

Multidirectional instability is a less common source of shoulder dislocation. These patients may develop shoulder instability or chronic dislocation issues without a history of injury.  They commonly have naturally loose joints throughout their body, sometimes referred to as being “double-jointed.”

How Is a Dislocated Shoulder Diagnosed?

Young man being assessed by doctor because of a dislocated shoulder

You should seek medical attention if you have obvious shoulder dislocation symptoms, chronic pain, or “looseness.”

Dr. Graham can diagnose shoulder instability with a physical examination of the joint. He will also order a diagnostic imaging service, such as an X-ray and MRI, to confirm diagnosis and guide treatment.

What Treatment Is Available For Shoulder Dislocation?

The first step in treating a dislocation is to place the humeral head back into the glenoid, a procedure called reduction.  This is typically done by an Emergency Room physician when due to traumatic injuries.  

Once reduction is complete, your doctor may immobilize your shoulder and arm in a sling or brace to help keep the joint in place. You can apply ice to your shoulder several times a day to reduce pain and inflammation.

Long-term treatment might be either conservative or surgical depending on the nature of the dislocation, age and activity level of the patient, amount of damage to the shoulder joint, and history of prior dislocations.

What Are the Available Treatments for Chronic Shoulder Instability?

Dr. Graham may suggest surgery to repair the damaged shoulder joint.  The procedure is typically done arthroscopically for soft tissue (Bankart) repair, but occasionally a bone graft procedure (Latarjet) is needed which is done with open surgery.

What Is Arthroscopy?

Arthroscopy is a minimally invasive surgical procedure that Dr. Graham performs through just a few small incisions in your shoulder. 

He uses an arthroscope — a thin surgical instrument that’s about the size and shape of a pencil with a light and a camera on its tip — to transmit video from inside your shoulder to a monitor in the treatment room. 

The arthroscope allows Dr. Graham to see damaged tissue and other signs of injury without having to make a large incision in your shoulder. 

Minimally invasive arthroscopy offers benefits such as reduced risks of infection and scarring, limited blood loss, and a more rapid recovery. However, in some cases, open surgery is necessary to repair shoulder tissue damage. 

Ask Dr. Graham about your shoulder repair options and learn more about what surgical approach can deliver the best results for your shoulder instability.

If you have shoulder pain and are concerned about instability, call Austin Shoulder Institute to request an appointment.

If you have shoulder pain and are concerned about a dislocation, call Austin Shoulder Institute or make an appointment online today.