Immediate care measures for a dislocated shoulder

A dislocated shoulder is a painful traumatic injury often seen in contact sports or from a fall. In this injury, the upper arm bone moves out of its normal position with evident damage to the neighboring soft tissues.

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This injury occurs if the head of the humerus moves out of the shoulder joint. In most instances, the top of the upper arm bone is driven forwards if the arm is held out to the side and turned outwards.

Remember that the shoulder joint is susceptible to injury due to its wide range of movement which foregoes stability. In most cases of a dislocated shoulder, it can also cause tears to the glenoid labrum. There is also damage to the adjacent tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, nerves and fractures to the other bones. In addition, recurring injuries are also likely which is why it is vital that proper rehabilitation of the shoulder is important.

Do I have a dislocated shoulder?

  • Abrupt intense pain at the time of injury

    Immediate care measures for a dislocated shoulder
    The shoulder is immobilized under a sling with the arm across the body until the tissues heal.
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Feeling that the shoulder moves out of the joint
  • Affected side appears different or lower than the unaffected side
  • Arm is held close to the body
  • Individual avoids moving or turning the affected arm outwards
  • Pins and needles sensation, numbness or discoloration in the arm if there is damage to the nerves or blood vessels

Management

The immediate care for a dislocated shoulder has 2 phases:

  • Protection and prevention of further damage to the shoulder joint
  • Seeking medical care as soon as possible

Immediate first aid

It is vital to seek medical care right away. Bring the individual to the nearest emergency department as soon as possible. Do not attempt to move the shoulder joint. A sling can be used to immobilize the joint to protect against further damage.

Apply an ice pack to minimize the pain and swelling. The application must be done for 10-15 minutes every hour initially and later reduced as the pain settles.

Reduction

This procedure involves positioning the humerus back into the joint. The shoulder must be restored into place by a health professional as soon as possible. Ideally, an X-ray is required to rule out a fracture.

In case reduction is difficult, anesthesia might be required during the procedure. It is important to note that surgical reduction is the ideal treatment for young active adults below the age of 30.

Immobilization

The shoulder is immobilized under a sling with the arm across the body until the tissues heal. An extensive rehabilitation program is required to restore mobility and strength.

After reduction, adequate rest and immobilization of the shoulder with a sling for 5-7 days is required. It is longer if fractures or significant soft tissue damage is present. NSAIDs such as ibuprofen is given to alleviate the inflammation and pain.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on dislocated shoulder is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize and manage dislocations by taking a standard first aid course with Mississauga First Aid.

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