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Treatment Orthopedics

Shoulder Dislocation

The first treatment for a dislocated shoulder is for a doctor to put the upper arm bone back into the shoulder socket, which quickly brings significant pain relief. Simple therapies such as applying ice packs, taking oral pain medication and wearing an arm sling for a few weeks can further reduce pain and swelling. Patients usually participate in a course of physical therapy to stabilize the shoulder. In many cases, these measures allow patients to return to prior levels of activity.

For patients who've had multiple dislocations, or who play sports that raise the risk of another dislocation, surgery may be an option. The procedure is usually performed arthroscopically (passing slender instruments through small incisions to visualize and treat the joint), and patients can go home the same day. Patients are under general anesthesia (completely asleep) and receive a nerve block (an injection that interrupts pain signals in the area), which lessens post-op pain. The procedure involves repairing the labrum back to the glenoid cavity, so the shoulder won't dislocate again. Following surgery, patients wear a sling for four to six weeks, allowing the tissue to heal.

An important part of a full recovery is participating in physical therapy. Most patients start a program one to two weeks after surgery. In the beginning, the focus will be on maintaining the shoulder's ability to move while still protecting the repair. After six weeks, patients can taper their use of the sling and progress toward active range-of-motion exercises. Once movement is recovered, patients work on strengthening the shoulder. They can generally resume contact sports and other more risky activities around six months after surgery.

Depending on their medical history with regard to the shoulder, some patients need a different procedure, either an open surgery (a traditional type of procedure) or surgery to address injury to the shoulder socket's bone. For those who have had prior surgery to stabilize the shoulder or numerous prior dislocations, surgical options may include a Latarjet coracoid transfer (moving a piece of bone from the shoulder blade to the front of the socket to stabilize the joint) or a reconstruction of the shoulder socket using bone from elsewhere in the patient's body or from donor bone. Our surgical care team carefully reviews each patient's history, exam findings and imaging studies to determine the best option.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.

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