Dislocated Shoulder

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

What are the symptoms and signs of a dislocated shoulder?

Dislocations hurt. When the humerus is forcibly pulled out of the socket, cartilage, muscle, and other tissues are stretched and torn. Shoulder dislocations present with significant pain, and the patient will often refuse to move the arm in any direction. The muscles that surround the shoulder joint tend to go into spasm, making any movements very painful. Usually, with anterior dislocations, the arm is held slightly away from the body, and the patient tries to relieve the pain by supporting the weight of the injured arm with the other hand. Often, the shoulder appears squared off since the humeral head has been moved out its normal place in the glenoid fossa. Sometimes, it may be seen or felt as a bulge in front of the shoulder joint.

As with other bony injuries, the pain may provoke systemic symptoms of nausea and vomiting, sweating, lightheadedness, and weakness. These occur because of the stimulation of the vagus nerve, which blocks the adrenaline response in the body. Occasionally, this may cause the patient to faint or pass out (vasovagal syncope).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/6/2016

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