Unplugged: Use These Tips to Deal with a Dislocated Shoulder

Anyone who’s experienced the agony of a dislocated shoulder knows it’s one of the most painful injuries to have to suffer through. He also knows that it feels immediately better once it is reduced or goes back into place. If you are one of the unlucky few who has experienced a shoulder dislocation while training, here’s what you need to know. About 95 percent of all shoulder dislocations are anterior dislocations — the humerus pops out of the socket and moves in front of the scapula. This usually results from falling on an outstretched arm with the arm raised overhead, being on the receiving end of an omoplata or throwing a wild punch that doesn’t hit its target.

How do you know if you’ve dislocated your shoulder? The pain will be so intense, it will be impossible for you to raise your arm more than a few inches or turn it in any direction without it becoming excruciating. Your shoulder will also look distinctly different — your arm will drop downward and will appear flat where the normally round deltoid muscles should be.


First and most important, get yourself to the hospital emergency room where properly trained professionals can assess and treat the injury correctly. It is important to rule out the possibility of a fracture before a reduction attempt is made. Do not have your training partner yank violently on your arm to put it back in place, and don’t do what Mel Gibson does to himself in the Lethal Weapon movies, either.


When you don’t have access to professional help, there are two simple ways to reduce a dislocated shoulder on your own. Lie face down on a table or bench in the prone position with the affected shoulder and arm hanging off the edge. Try to let your arm straighten out at the elbow by relaxing the muscles. The simple weight of the arm hanging down is often enough to get the shoulder to reduce on its own. Be patient. This can take a while, but once the muscles relax sufficiently the shoulder usually goes right back in, and you will feel immediate relief once it does.


An alternate method involves sitting on the floor with your knees bent. Reach out both hands and clasp them together in front of the knee that is opposite the affected shoulder. Slowly lean backward, and the let the weight of your body put tension through the arm and shoulder so your elbow extends and straightens out. You should feel your shoulder pop back into place, and you may even hear a pop as it reduces.

If either method is done correctly, you should have immediate pain reduction, and you should be able to reach overhead, reach behind and rotate your shoulder inward and outward. These movements will be virtually impossible to do if your shoulder is dislocated. It’s important to keep in mind that both of these methods will work for anterior dislocations, but they do not apply for posterior dislocations.


Put your arm in a sling to immobilize the shoulder. Follow up immediately with a physician to rule out any fractures, Bankart lesions or tears to the shoulder capsule, ligaments and other soft tissues. Once you have been cleared, a good rehabilitation program is essential to minimize the chances of future dislocations. A shoulder that has dislocated once has as much as a 90 percent recurrence rate for further dislocations (especially in younger athletes). Strengthening with rotator cuff exercises will be an essential part of your shoulder rehab, so it’s a good idea to add them to your workout regimen even if you don’t have an unstable shoulder. Practicing prevention is far easier to do than having to deal with the consequences of a dislocated shoulder.

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