Symptoms of Shoulder Instability

woman in pain at the gymShoulder instability happens when the structures surrounding your shoulder joint don’t keep the ball tightly within the socket. If the joint is too loose, it can slide around too much, also known as shoulder subluxation. If the joint completely pops out, it is a shoulder dislocation.

What Are the Symptoms of Shoulder Instability?

The symptoms of shoulder instability include:

  • Sensation that your shoulder is about to pop out of place or has popped out of place
  • Sensation that your shoulder has popped back into the socket
  • Numbness or tingling down the arm
  • Experiencing catching, clicking, or looseness in the shoulder with daily activities, especially that involve overhead movements
  • Severe shoulder pain
  • Shoulder deformity
  • Sense of arm paralysis

What Causes Shoulder Instability?

The following groups are more vulnerable to shoulder instability:

Prior Shoulder Dislocations

Anyone with a history of a prior shoulder dislocation may have chronic shoulder instability as a result. The supporting shoulder ligaments and labrum tear during the dislocation, and when the ligaments heal too loosely, the shoulder is vulnerable to repeat dislocations and instability. About 80% of young people (under 35 years old) who have experienced a traumatic dislocation will experience shoulder instability later on.

Competing in Sports

Athletes in sports that involve overhead arm activities can develop a loose shoulder or instability. The overhead movements stretch out the shoulder capsule and ligaments, and this can lead to chronic shoulder instability.

Being Double-Jointed:

Those with connective tissue conditions can develop loose shoulder joints. Joint laxity, also known as double-jointedness, is a condition of loose joints throughout the body. This joint looseness can cause shoulder instability and dislocations to occur.

What Are Treatment Options for Shoulder Instability?

Non-Invasive Treatment

  • Immediately after a shoulder injury, make sure to ice & rest the shoulder in a sling
  • Make a doctor’s appointment or go to the ER immediately, so X-rays can be taken to see if any bone injury has occurred. If your shoulder remains dislocated, then you need to go to the ER to have it reduced
  • After a few days of rest, your doctor will give you an exercise program to begin that will strengthen the shoulder muscles
  • You may have to wear a sling for a few weeks for relief from shoulder pain
  • After the sling is removed, you should not make extreme arm motions
  • Physical therapy will likely be recommended
  • An MRI may be recommended, depending on how your shoulder is doing

Surgical Treatment

If non-invasive medical treatment doesn't relieve the symptoms, and your shoulder problems are interfering with daily activities or the instability persists, then surgery on your shoulder may be needed. Arthroscopic or open shoulder surgery is performed to reattach and tighten torn ligament tissue. After surgery, you'll wear a sling for 4-6 weeks. Physical therapy for strengthening muscles and improving your motion will be recommended.

To find out more about shoulder instability and treatment options, make an appointment today with Dr. M. Tyrrell Burrus.