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What is Shoulder Subluxation?

A shoulder subluxation is the step before dislocation. There is separation of the joint but it is only partially dislocated, not completely. The shoulder blade bone (scapula) extends up to the top of the shoulder ending in what is known as the glenoid cavity, or the socket. At the top end of the upper arm bone, the humerus, is the humeral head which is shaped like a ball. The humeral head fits nicely into the glenoid cavity socket. It is held in place by a series of ligaments and the joint capsule, which is a fibrocartilaginous bubble-like structure that surrounds the entire joint. Overuse, trauma, and other conditions may cause the humerus to partially come out of the socket This is when a diagnosis of a Shoulder Subluxation will be given.

What Causes a Partially Dislocated Shoulder?

A partially dislocated shoulder is generally the result of a traumatic injury, with force directed to the shoulder greater than it is able to withstand causing it to partially dislocate. Although a traumatic injury will usually be the cause of this happening, sometimes genetics will play a role, meaning that you may have been born with a predisposition for a chronically subluxing shoulder. This is also a common condition seen in a patient who has had a stroke leading to significant weakness of the shoulder.


What happens in a subluxation is that the capsule of the shoulder joint, or surrounding tendons and ligaments may be slightly torn or overstretched. This causes instability of the joint leading to the humeral head slipping out the socket. But not completely. In a totally dislocated shoulder, the humerus is completely detached from the socket.

x ray of the shoulder joint with dislocation of the head of the

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Partially Dislocated Shoulder | How to Tell if Shoulder is Dislocated

A Partial Dislocation is not always easy to diagnose because in most cases, the shoulder will not be visibly deformed as in the case of a total shoulder dislocation. In some cases, there will be a visible sign that the shoulder has partially dislocated. An x-ray of the and other imaging techniques such as a CT scan or MRI of the shoulder will usually be needed in order to accurately diagnose this condition. The symptoms you may experience with Shoulder Subluxation are:

  • Significant pain in the shoulder joint
  • A feeling of instability or looseness of the shoulder
  • A feeling that your shoulder goes ‘in and out”
  • Difficulty moving the joint
  • Swelling
If You Are Experiencing Symptoms, Schedule an Appointment Dr. Burke Orthopedics Immediately.
Elderly woman suffering from pain in shoulder at home. Senior lady is demonstrating suffering from ache holding her shoulder

How to Treat Shoulder Subluxation

Treatment for a subluxation is usually conservative. After your doctor has been able to place the humeral head back into the appropriate positioning within the socket (called a closed reduction), acute pain should significantly decrease. Then, a course of physical therapy will be ordered to maximally strengthen all of the muscles surrounding the shoulder in order to prevent future subluxations. Placing your shoulder in a brace for a time in order to allow healing to occur may be suggested as well as pain medications. Surgery will only be indicated in the case of chronically recurring subluxations.

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Disclaimer: Please note all medical information contained within this website should never be interpreted as a diagnosis or recommendation of treatment. If a diagnosis is needed, contact Dr. Burke Orthopedics for a personalized consultation. Information shared in testimonials and reviews are specific to that particular patient and may not be representative of the experience of others.