What is Shoulder Instability?

Shoulder instability occurs when the shoulder feels like it might slip out of place. It occurs most often in young people and athletes. The shoulder becomes unstable when muscles and ligaments that hold it together are stretched beyond their normal limits. For younger people, this condition may be a normal part of growth and development. Shoulders generally stiffen or tighten with age.

In athletes, shoulder instability is caused by activities, such as tackling or pitching, that put extreme force on the shoulder. Symptoms of shoulder instability are pain that comes on either suddenly or gradually, a feeling that the shoulder is loose, or a weakness in the arm. Treatment may include rest, physical therapy or surgery.

A shoulder separation, also called a sprain, occurs when the ligaments that hold the clavicle to the roof of the shoulder tear. If this happens, the clavicle is pushed out of place and forms a bump at the top of the shoulder. Sprains are common in falls, when the hand or arm is outstretched to stop the fall, or when the fall is on a hard surface. Symptoms are severe pain when the sprain occurs, a misshapen shoulder and decreased movement of the shoulder. Treatment depends on the severity of the sprain. Ice applied immediately after the injury helps decrease pain and swelling. Keeping the arm in a sling to limit the movement of the shoulder allows ligaments to heal. Slings are usually followed by physical therapy exercises. Sometimes, surgery is needed.

If the ligaments that hold the shoulder muscles to bones tear and can’t hold the joint together, the shoulder is dislocated. A fall onto an outstretched hand, arm or the shoulder itself, or a violent twisting, can cause a shoulder dislocation. The main symptom is pain in the shoulder that becomes worse when the shoulder is moved. A dislocated shoulder needs immediate medical care.  Ice should be applied immediately after the injury to decrease pain, swelling and bleeding around the joint. Within 15 to 30 minutes of dislocation, the joint will be painful and swollen. Doctors treat dislocations by using gentle traction to pull the shoulder back into place. When the shoulder pops out of the socket repeatedly, the condition is called recurrent instability. Recurrent instability can be treated with surgery to repair the torn ligaments.

If you think you may have an unstable shoulder, see an expert. Call us at (402) 637-0800.

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