Shoulder Instability

Person having pain in shoulder

Shoulder instability refers to a condition in which the soft tissue components of the shoulder joint have become stretched, torn, or detached, resulting in the regular subluxation or dislocation of the shoulder joint.

There are various causes of shoulder instability such as:

  • dislocations that damage the capsule, glenoid, and humeral head
  • subluxations that stretch the joint capsule
  • a torn labrum

These causes can contribute to shoulder instability in one of two ways: traumatic (injury) or atraumatic.

Traumatic Shoulder Instability

Traumatic shoulder instability develops when an injury causes the shoulder to dislocate. This type of instability is commonly seen in younger people who play sports. It can develop when there is a lack of support from the labrum and ligaments. The severity of chronic instability is dependent on the type and severity of the initial injury.

Atraumatic Shoulder Instability

Caused by a general looseness in the shoulder that eventually causes subluxations or dislocations. This type of instability is more common in older adults and typically occurs after a long period of wear and tear on the shoulder joint.

Did You Know?

When the femoral head is pushed completely out of the glenoid, this is known as a dislocation. When the femoral head is only pushed partially out of the glenoid and returns on its own, this is known as subluxation.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Do I have shoulder instability?

In cases where the shoulder has become dislocated, it causes specific symptoms that are hard to miss. These can include: 

  • pain
  • severely limited range of motion
  • visible deformity
  • shoulder hands down and forward

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is best to see a doctor at Dearborn & Associates as soon as possible for an evaluation.

How is shoulder instability diagnosed at Dearborn & Associates?

At Dearborn & Associates, our doctors can visually recognize a dislocated shoulder almost immediately. Some cases can be harder to diagnose, especially if the shoulder spontaneously relocates, or reduces, itself. X-ray or MRI imaging may be used to diagnose a dislocation, check for fractures, or assess the condition of the labrum and ligaments within the joint.

How is shoulder instability treated at Dearborn & Associates?

The first step to treating shoulder instability is to reduce the joint.  This is when the doctor pushes or pulls on the arm in a controlled manner, guiding the shoulder back into its socket. This is typically achieved with a quick and specific thrust. The period following a reduction will usually consist of immobilization for 4 weeks, followed by physical therapy.

For recurrent cases of shoulder instability, physical therapy is generally recommended to strengthen the rotator cuff and periscapular muscles to improve joint stability. Although physical therapy is effective for treating some cases, other cases may require surgical intervention.

Surgical intervention for shoulder instability is generally performed using an arthroscopic technique known as Bankart Repair. The goal of shoulder instability surgery is to stabilize the shoulder, while preserving as much motion as possible. With that being said, however, shoulder instability surgery can cause some loss of motion.

Schedule a consultation with Dearborn & Associates in Menlo Park today to see how we can help with your shoulder instability.