Shoulder subluxation is a dislocation injury in which the ball of the upper arm bone slips partially out of the glenoid socket (the socket of the scapula, or shoulder blade). By contrast, in a complete dislocation, the humerus comes entirely out of the socket. As the most mobile joint in the human body, the shoulder contains a large number of bones, muscles, and ligaments that all must work together to maintain stability. Because of its high mobility, the joint is highly susceptible to this type of injury.
Shoulder Subluxation Causes
The shoulder can dislocate in any of several different directions – forward, backward, or downward. A subluxation is usually caused by a forceful blow or extreme rotation. Athletes who participate in football, hockey, gymnastics, and skiing are particularly susceptible. Falls and motor vehicle accidents are also common causes. Strokes can also lead to weak muscles, which can cause subluxations because of destabilization of the joint. In general, younger men and people who are highly physically active experience more subluxations than other groups. Once a shoulder has become dislocated, it may be more prone to subluxations and dislocations in the future.
Shoulder Subluxation Symptoms
It can be challenging to diagnose a shoulder subluxation, although in some cases, the partial dislocation can be seen under the skin. A person who is experiencing a subluxation may be able to feel the humerus moving in and out of the socket; this is typically uncomfortable and can be quite painful. Other symptoms include swelling, numbness or tingling along the arm, difficulty moving the shoulder joint, or a visibly deformed shoulder. There may also be a catching or clicking sensation in the shoulder with regular activities, particularly those involving reaching overhead.
Shoulder Subluxation Treatment
The goal of treatment is to replace the ball of the humerus into the socket, and ensure that it doesn’t come out again. Possible treatments include:
- Closed reduction. A closed reduction is when a doctor maneuvers the bone gently back into its correct position. If this is successful, the patient is likely to experience almost immediate pain relief.
- Surgery. If a person experiences recurring dislocations, surgery may be suggested. An operation may also be appropriate if the injury has damaged nerves or ligaments in the shoulder.
- Medication. Patients often require certain medications such as anti-inflammatory agents or muscle relaxants to reduce pain and swelling.
- Shoulder brace. A brace, splint, or sling is worn for a period of time can keep the shoulder from moving and aid in healing.
- Rehabilitation. Once the patient has recovered from surgery and no longer requires a brace, rehabilitation or physical therapy program and help restore strength and range of motion.
Shoulder Subluxation Recovery
In subluxations with no major tissue or nerve damage, the joint usually recover quickly and without complications. However, returning to regular activities too soon can make another dislocation more likely. When a patient seeks prompt medical attention, the outlook is good. Recovery may take some time and the patient should avoid strenuous activity in the meantime for the best odds of an optimal outcome.