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What Is Shoulder Subluxation?

Published: 04:14 am, Thu July 11, 2024

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Have you ever experienced that weird sensation where it feels like your shoulder joint almost pops out of its socket but (thankfully) doesn't quite go all the way? You may be dealing with shoulder subluxation. Shoulder subluxation is a partial dislocation of the shoulder joint. The shoulder joint is made up of the ball of your arm bone (humerus), which fits into a cup-like socket (glenoid) in your shoulder blade (scapula). In this post, we’ll show you the causes, symptoms, and treatment of shoulder subluxation.

What Causes Shoulder Subluxation? 

A shoulder subluxation happens when the ball of your arm bone partially slips out of the socket. But in a shoulder dislocation, the ball completely detaches from the socket. In a subluxation, the bone can shift forward, backward, or downward. The injury sometimes tears muscles, ligaments, or tendons around the shoulder joint. Here are some common causes of shoulder subluxation:
  • Sports injuries: This often results from activities involving repetitive overhead motions, such as swimming, tennis, weightlifting, and acrobatics.
  • Traumatic injuries: This can occur during everyday activities like serious falls or motor vehicle accidents.
  • Strokes: This frequently leads to muscle weakness, which can destabilize the shoulder joint and result in subluxation. 
  • Genetic condition: Some people are born with naturally loose shoulder ligaments or may have a genetic condition that results in joint laxity, predisposing them to shoulder instability.

What Does Shoulder Subluxation Feel Like?

With shoulder subluxation, you’ll likely experience significant pain and swelling in the shoulder. In some cases, the shifted humerus is visible under the skin. Movement of the arm can be difficult, and you might hear a clicking sound. Additionally, you may feel numbness or tingling in the arm or fingers. Common symptoms of a shoulder subluxation include:
  • Decreased range of arm/shoulder motion
  • Recurrent shoulder dislocations
  • Periodic incidents of the shoulder giving way
  • A persistent feeling of the shoulder being loose or the humerus moving in and out of the joint
  • Pain in the shoulder region

Possible Complications of Shoulder Subluxation

When shoulder subluxation first happens, it can cause the structures around the shoulder joint, such as ligaments, tendons, and the joint capsule, to heal in a loose or stretched position. This healing pattern can increase the risk of future episodes of shoulder instability, where the humeral head may slip out of place again or completely dislocate from the socket. This repetitive injury can result in chronic instability of the shoulder joint, making it more prone to dislocation with less force over time. If you're experiencing the symptoms mentioned earlier, seek medical attention, even if you're unsure whether your shoulder joint has completely dislocated. This can help prevent further injury or instability of the joint.

How Is Subluxation Diagnosed?

Your physical therapist will ask about your symptoms and do a full check, feeling around for any sore spots, and testing your range of motion and strength. You may need an X-ray to see if the head of the bone has partially or totally come out of the shoulder socket.  Apart from showing broken bones, an X-ray can also reveal other injuries in the shoulder area. Additional tests like MRI scans or arthrograms, with or without CT scans, might be used selectively to take a closer look at the bones and tissues of the shoulder joint. But not everyone with shoulder instability needs these extra tests.

How Is Subluxation Treated?

Treatment for shoulder subluxation aims to reposition the humerus into the shoulder socket, stabilize the joint, and maintain its position.   Treatment options may include:
  • Closed reduction: This involves maneuvering the bone back into place, often providing immediate relief from severe pain. Don’t try to push your joint back in place by yourself. Don’t let anyone who’s not a trained, professional healthcare provider move or touch your injured shoulder, either. Try to hold your shoulder as still as possible, and don’t force yourself to use it. Your doctor may do X-rays afterward to ensure your shoulder is in the correct position and that there are no other injuries around the shoulder joint.
  • Immobilization: Your doctor may recommend wearing braces or slings temporarily to restrict shoulder movement and prevent the bone from slipping out again. Keep your shoulder in the sling, and avoid stretching or moving it too much while the injury heals.
  • Medication: Your healthcare provider will recommend muscle relaxants and anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen that can help manage pain and swelling.
  • Surgery: You may need surgery for recurrent dislocations or to repair damaged nerves, blood vessels, or ligaments in the shoulder.
  • Exercises: Strengthening exercises can help stabilize your shoulder. You’ll also get a program of exercises to do at home. Do these exercises as often as your physical therapist recommends. In addition to exercises, a physical therapist may recommend therapeutic massage, ice therapy, and avoiding specific movements or activities.

How Long Does Shoulder Subluxation Recovery Take?

Recovery may take a few weeks for a mild subluxation, but a more severe subluxation may take several months to heal.  While you’re recovering, avoid sports or other activities that might reinjure your shoulder. It will likely happen again if you have partially dislocated your shoulder before.  If you return too soon to your sports or intense activities, you may worsen your injury, which could lead to permanent damage. Ask your provider how long you need to wait before you resume your activities.

Visit Lancaster Orthopedic Group to Treat Shoulder Conditions

If you suspect you may be experiencing shoulder subluxation, it's crucial to seek medical attention from a qualified orthopedic specialist. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further complications and ensure a full recovery. At Lancaster Orthopedic Group, our team of experienced physical therapists is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for all shoulder conditions, including subluxation. We offer various treatment options to get you back to your favorite activities as soon as possible. Contact us today to schedule a consultation. Our friendly staff is available to answer your questions and guide you through the scheduling process. We look forward to helping you achieve perfect shoulder health.

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