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How to Know You Have a Dislocated Shoulder

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the body’s most flexible joint is the shoulder joint—making it prone to dislocations 23. When a shoulder is dislocated the upper arm bone pops out of the socket located in the shoulder blade, explains 1. The shoulder can dislocated forward, backward, downward and partially or completely 1. Medical attention is necessary; however, full recovery takes only a few weeks, according to the clinic. Once a person suffers from a dislocated shoulder, additional dislocations are more likely in the future 13.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.

Inspect the shoulder to confirm an injury. Look for bruising, swelling or deformity to the shoulder region. The shoulder will no longer appear round and smooth; it will appear very different from the opposite shoulder. Muscle spasms may be seen as well as felt.

Signs & Symptoms of Shoulder Injuries

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Move your shoulder slightly, if possible. If you experience intense, sudden pain, you may have a dislocated shoulder 12. Immediately stop any movement to prevent further injury to the shoulder.

Listen for “popping” sound when the bone comes out of the socket immediately after the injury. A sound may not always be present, even if the shoulder is dislocated 1. It may be difficult to initially tell if the shoulder is fractured or if a dislocation is present, according to 1.

Arthrogram Vs. MRI for Rotator Cuff

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Touch the injured area to identify any numbness. A pins and needles sensation may also take place due to a potentially dislocated shoulder 1. It's possible that there has been damage to nerves or blood vessels when numbness or loss of sensation is felt in the shoulder.

Receive an x-ray of the shoulder to rule out a bone fracture. Discuss with your doctor what activities were occurring before symptoms began. Talk about any previous shoulder injuries to assist in a proper medical diagnosis. Allow magnetic resonance imaging or electromyography tests to determine the extent of the shoulder injury.


According to Sports Injury Clinic, 95 percent of shoulder dislocations are anterior dislocations. The arm bone is forced forwards when the arm is held outwards and to the side. Apply ice to the area while waiting for medical attention. Ice decreases swelling and pain. Internal bleeding and fluids around the joint do not build up as rapidly when ice is applied. If there is a dislocated shoulder, the medical doctor will manually replace the shoulder into its socket. Once it is back in place, the pain immediately stops, according to the America Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.


Never attempt to move the dislocated shoulder back into position. Avoid moving the suspected injured shoulder. Increased movement may further damage ligaments, tendons and other connective tissues in the area.