Dislocated Shoulder - Complications

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What were the complications related to your shoulder dislocation?

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What are potential complications of a shoulder dislocation?

Shoulder dislocations may be complicated by fractures of the bones that make up the shoulder joint. Up to 25% of patients will have an associated fracture. Not included in these numbers are the Hill-Sachs deformity that may occur in up to 75% of anterior shoulder dislocations.

Nerve damage is a potential complication. Most often, the circumflex axillary nerve may be injured. The first sign of injury is numbness in a small patch distribution on the outside of the upper arm. This nerve often recovers spontaneously in a few weeks, but this is an important complication for the health-care provider to recognize since damage to the nerve may cause weakness of the deltoid muscle that helps move the shoulder.

Rotator cuff injuries are commonly seen in older patients who dislocate their shoulder. The diagnosis may be difficult to make initially and often is made in follow-up visits with the health-care provider.

Rare complications of shoulder dislocation include tearing of the axillary artery, the main artery that supplies blood to the arm and brachial plexus injury, in which the nerve bundle that attaches the arm nerves to the spinal cord is damaged. Both these structures are located in the axilla or armpit and are potentially damaged by the initial dislocation or by attempts to reduce the dislocation.

Shoulder Dislocation At A Glance

  • Shoulders are the most common joint in the body to dislocate.
  • Approximately 25% of shoulder dislocations have associated fractures.
  • Closed reduction, without the need for surgery, is the most common initial treatment. Medications may be required for sedation to help facilitate the reduction.
  • Immobilization with a sling is important to decrease the risk of a repeat dislocation. First dislocations are immobilized in an external rotation position. Recurrent dislocations may be immobilized in a regular sling.
  • Early follow-up is important to decide when to begin allowing shoulder motion.
  • Total time of immobilization varies, and balance needs to exist between shoulder stability and loss of motion and function from prolonged immobilization.
  • Uncomplicated rehabilitation and healing will allow return to normal function in 12-16 weeks.

Return to Dislocated Shoulder

See what others are saying

Comment from: rocknroll1968, 65-74 Male (Patient) Published: September 09

My left shoulder dislocated (all anterior) as a result of severe trauma in 2007. The arm was placed in a sling and PT was prescribed after 6 weeks. Full recovery took 6 months. At the beginning of 2013 the same shoulder was dislocated in a mild trauma. Four months later another dislocation occurred under minor trauma. All dislocations where reduced by closed reduction. Shoulder partially dislocated 2 weeks ago while yawning and stretching. An MRI and ex-rays revealed a Hills Sachs deformity and rotator cuff damage plus some ligament damage. I am a 65 year old man and I rather not undergo surgery since I have no pain and full range of motion in the damaged shoulder. However, due to the instability now present it would be wise for me to get the existing damage surgically repaired as more dislocations can be expected due to this joint instability.

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