Shoulder dislocation

Last updated: February 21, 2022

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Because the head of the humerus is substantially larger than the glenoid fossa, shoulder dislocation is the most common type of joint dislocation. The head of the humerus can dislocate completely or partially (subluxation) in three directions: anteriorly (most common), posteriorly, or inferiorly. Shoulder dislocation is usually the result of trauma. Typical symptoms include pain and restricted range of motion. Examination reveals a palpable dent in the shoulder caused by the empty glenoid fossa, while the head of the humerus may be palpable inferior to the glenoid fossa. X-rays of the shoulder in two views are necessary to rule out fractures and confirm the diagnosis. With adequate analgesia and muscle relaxation, the head of the humerus can be carefully repositioned into the glenoid fossa through various maneuvers. Reduction is followed by immobilization and subsequent physiotherapy. Patients with concomitant soft tissue lesions or recurrent shoulder dislocation may require surgery to stabilize the shoulder joint. Possible complications of shoulder dislocation include neurovascular damage (most commonly axillary nerve palsy), continued instability, restricted range of motion, and rotator cuff injury.

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Posterior shoulder dislocation is frequently overlooked during clinical examination!

The primary aim of treatment is to reposition the humeral head into the glenoid cavity and restore full range of motion. This may be achieved by either closed reduction or surgical repair.

Continuous neurovascular monitoring/evaluation before and after reduction is important for prevention and early detection of axillary nerve and artery damage!

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

  • High rate of recurrence
  • After rotator cuff repair, the rate of recurrence is significantly lower.
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  4. Seade LE, Young CC. Shoulder Dislocation. Shoulder Dislocation. New York, NY: WebMD. Updated: August 27, 2015. Accessed: December 7, 2016.
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  6. Posterior shoulder dislocation. . Accessed: December 7, 2016.

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