Your shoulders may have a wider range of motion than any other joint in your body, but this impressive functionality comes with a cost: Your most mobile joint is also your least stable joint, and this mobility-instability interchange leaves your shoulder more vulnerable to injury.
One of the most common acute injuries we see at American River Urgent Care is a shoulder dislocation, or the abnormal separation and displacement of the bones that come together to form the shoulder joint. A dislocated shoulder is a medical emergency that requires prompt urgent care from an expert — and with a walk-in clinic that’s open seven days a week, we’re here to help.
Read on as we discuss the ins and outs of shoulder dislocation, including how it occurs, common warning signs, and what to do before you reach our office.
Shoulder anatomy and joint dislocation
Your shoulder complex consists of four joints, the main one being a shallow, ball-and-socket arrangement called the glenohumeral (GH) joint. The GH joint connects the top of your upper arm bone (humerus) to a scooped-out area of your shoulder blade (scapula) called the glenoid cavity. The GH joint is encompassed by a flexible envelope of tissue called the joint capsule.
As the most mobile and least stable joint in your body, the GH joint has the distinction of being the joint that becomes dislocated most often. Shoulder dislocation occurs when the ends of the bones that meet within the joint are forcefully pushed out of place or separated. A joint can be fully dislocated, or only partially dislocated (subluxation).
First-time shoulder dislocations are usually caused by an impact injury, as might happen during:
- Motor vehicle crashes
- Bicycling accidents
- Slip-and-fall incidents
- Contact sports mishaps
- Workplace accidents
When the ball-and-socket of the GH joint are forcefully separated, the socket bone (glenoid) and the cartilage ridge around the edge of the socket (labrum) may be damaged, along with other supporting joint tissues like muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels.
After a shoulder has been dislocated once, it’s more likely to happen again. Chronic shoulder instability refers to a “loose” shoulder joint that has suffered repeated dislocations.
Warning signs of a dislocated shoulder
Given that most shoulder dislocations are sudden, force-induced injuries, they tend to cause immediate symptoms. Eight warning signs of a dislocated shoulder include:
- Sudden, severe shoulder pain
- Shoulder joint immobility
- A visibly deformed shoulder joint
- A loose, unstable shoulder joint
- Immediate localized swelling
- Prompt bruising or discoloration
- Muscle spasms around the joint
- Arm weakness, numbness, or tingling
Simply put, dislocated shoulder joints are typically very painful, noticeably swollen, and visibly out of place. You probably won’t be able to move your shoulder, but if motion is possible, you should avoid it.
Immediate care for a dislocated shoulder
A dislocated shoulder requires swift expert care, so if you think that you (or someone in your care) has sustained this painful, joint-deforming injury, it’s important to head to our walk-in clinic or your nearest emergency room right away.
Don’t move your injured shoulder, and never attempt to force the bones back in place; doing so can damage the joint and its supporting muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels. Instead, protect the injured joint by keeping it as still and stable as possible.
If you can, gently apply a cloth-covered ice pack to the area to help ease swelling and control the buildup of fluids around the injured joint. You can also take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to ease your pain; once you reach our office, we may give you a sedative or a local anesthetic to relax your shoulder muscles so we can carefully reposition your joint.
No matter what your pressing urgent care need happens to be, American River Urgent Care can help. Give us a call today, stop by our walk-in clinic at your convenience, or click online to book a visit at our office in Orangevale, California, any time.