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.

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What is the treatment for a dislocated shoulder?

The purpose of the initial treatment of a dislocated shoulder is to reduce the dislocation and return the humeral head to its normal place in the glenoid fossa. There are a variety of methods that may be used to achieve this goal. The decision as to which one to use depends upon the patient, the situation, and the experience of the clinician performing the reduction. Regardless of the technique used, the hope is to be able to efficiently reduce the dislocation with a minimum of anesthesia required. Most attempts at closed reductions are successful; that is, no incision or cut is made into the joint to assist in returning the bones to their normal position. The term "open reduction" refers to performing surgery to repair the dislocation. Methods for reduction of a shoulder dislocation are described below.

Scapular manipulation

The patient may be sitting up or lying prone. The health-care professional attempts to rotate the shoulder blade, dislodging the humeral head, and allowing spontaneous relocation. An assistant may be needed to help stabilize the arm.

External rotation (Hennepin maneuver)

With the patient lying flat or sitting up, the health-care professional flexes the elbow to 90 degrees and gradually rotates the shoulder outward (external rotation). Muscle spasm may be able to be overcome after five to 10 minutes of gentle pushing, allowing the shoulder to spontaneously relocate. The Milch technique adds gentle lifting of the arm above the head to achieve reduction.

Traction-counter traction

With the patient lying flat, a sheet is looped around the armpit. While the health-care professional pulls down on the arm, an assistant, located at the head of the bed, pulls on the sheet to apply counter traction. As the muscles relax, the humeral head is able to return to its normal position.

Open reduction

In rare circumstances, the shoulder cannot be reduced using closed reduction techniques because a tendon, ligament, or piece of broken bone gets caught in the joint, preventing return of the humeral head into the glenoid. When closed reduction fails, it may be necessary for an orthopedic surgeon to perform an operation or open reduction.

Procedural medications

Depending upon the amount of pain and spasm present, medication may be needed to sedate and comfort the patient prior to and during the reduction procedure. Medications may also be given to relax the muscles to aid in the joint reduction.

Patients receiving intravenous medications need to have their vital signs monitored before, during, and after the shoulder relocation just as if they were in the operating room. In some circumstances (for example a patient with underlying lung or heart illnesses), the presence of an anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist may be appropriate during the relocation. Health-care professionals use intravenous narcotics and muscle relaxants in combination to relieve pain, relax muscles, and help promote amnesia of the events. Common pain medications used include morphine, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and fentanyl. Physicians may use midazolam (Versed), diazepam (Valium), or lorazepam (Ativan) as a muscle relaxant. It is common to sedate the patient with anesthetics like ketamine or propofol to allow shoulder reduction. Physicians may use intra-articular (intra = within + articular = joint) injections of lidocaine (Xylocaine) into the shoulder joint as local anesthesia.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2015

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