What to Expect After Treatment for a Dislocated Shoulder

By

Catherine Spader, RN

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Shoulder Physical Therapy

Looking Beyond Initial Treatment

A dislocated shoulder occurs when the ball of the upper arm bone—or humerus—has moved out of its normal place in the shoulder socket. The first step in treatment is to put the humerus back into its normal position. This is called a closed reduction. After that, your recovery will vary depending on the type of shoulder dislocation and other factors. Read on to learn more about recovery after a dislocated shoulder.

Recovery Goals

Your goals during recovery are to manage your symptoms, regain shoulder function, and prevent long-term problems. This can take some time and be quite a challenge, especially if you have dislocated your shoulder before. A recurring or severe shoulder dislocation takes a longer time to heal. It also may not heal as well as a first-time or minor shoulder dislocation. Talk with your doctor from the very beginning about the best strategies to reach your goals and what you can expect.

Pain Management

The pain of a dislocated shoulder is severe. Your doctor will give you pain medication and a sedative to relax you and make it easier to put your shoulder back in place. Your pain level will improve greatly once the shoulder is back in place. However, there will still be some pain or soreness as your shoulder heals over the next several weeks. 

Controlling pain is vital because it helps you complete rehabilitation and increase your activities. Your doctor may prescribe a narcotic pain reliever to use for a short time after your closed reduction. Talk to your doctor before taking other pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). 

Rehabilitation

You will need rehabilitation to help your shoulder heal. Your care team will make a personal plan for you based on the severity of the shoulder dislocation and your activities. Rehabilitation generally includes wearing a sling or special brace to keep the shoulder from moving. You will likely need to wear it for several weeks. 

As you improve, your doctor will recommend exercises or physical therapy. This will strengthen your shoulder and increase movement safely. You will begin with muscle toning exercises and add weight training as your shoulder gets stronger.

Activities

Returning to normal activities can take several weeks or more. The time varies depending on the type of dislocation and the activity. Your doctor or physical therapist will guide you to add activities and intensity safely. Wear your brace and perform your exercises as directed at home. Tell your doctor and therapist about all your activities, especially high-impact or contact sports, and follow instructions for when to return to them. Keep in mind doing too much too fast can cause problems.

Complications

It’s important to be aware of possible complications while you recover. Call your doctor right away if you have increasing pain or swelling, or numbness or tingling in the affected arm or hand. These could be signs of a complication, such as nerve damage.

Dislocating a shoulder means it’s more likely to happen again in the future. To lower the risk, follow your exercise program and return to activities as directed. Some people need surgery to tighten ligaments that hold the shoulder in place. Ask your doctor about your risk of another dislocation and if surgery is a good option for you.  

Recovery Success

An ideal recovery returns your shoulder function without pain, repeated dislocations, or other problems. This may not be possible in all cases, but you can do your part to get there by following your rehabilitation plan. Your doctor will check your progress as your shoulder heals. Follow your doctor’s recommendations, and be sure to call your doctor with any concerns.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Aug 3, 2016

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Medical References

  1. Dislocated shoulder. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00035.
  2. Shoulder problems. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Shoulder_Problems/.
  3. Shoulder surgery. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00066.
  4. Shoulder trauma (fractures and dislocations). American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00394.

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