Tis falling over season – what to do if you think your shoulder has dislocated

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By Mr Harry Brownlow, December 2017

Tis falling over season!

Mud, rugby, rain, cycling, ice, snow, skiing, alcohol. Whatever the combination someone will be falling over near you within the next few weeks!

One of the risks of falling over is to get a dislocated shoulder. You will know intuitively if your shoulder dislocated. You will have a sense that your shoulder came out of joint and maybe even went back in again on its own. Trust your intuition, it will be correct.

When you have dislocated your shoulder after an injury there are 3 things that need to be considered.

  1. Have you dislocated because your shoulder is just too loose? This might be the case if you are a teenager, especially a girl, and you probably already think of yourself as being loose or double jointed.
  2. If you are not very loose then something must have broken! As a teenager or young adult it is usually ligaments that have torn although occasionally it is a fracture of the glenoid (socket). Over the age of 40 then it is usually a rotator cuff tear of the big shoulder tendons. Between these ages then it might be ligaments or a fracture of the greater tuberosity.
  3. In everybody the doctor will also need to check that you haven’t injured any of the nerves around the shoulder.

So, if you feel that your shoulder dislocated, even if it seemed to go back into joint, then you need to go to hospital to check your nerves and to have an xray to rule out a fracture. And if you are over 40 then you also need to make sure that you haven’t torn your rotator cuff. This requires an ultrasound scan or MRI. This is really important and too frequently not performed.

If something has snapped then you are at risk of further dislocations if the broken bit is not fixed with surgery

After this point you should talk to an expert about how to manage the problem. If you are just too loose then good physiotherapy will usually sort you out. If something has snapped then you are at risk of further dislocations if the broken bit is not fixed with surgery. Depending on the problem it might be shoulder dislocation surgery, rotator cuff surgery or shoulder fracture surgery.