Shoulder instability (dislocated shoulder) in Children

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As our understanding of instability of the shoulder joint has increased, so too has our expertise in treatment, including important advances in surgical techniques.

--Donald S. Bae, MD, associate in Orthopedic Surgery, Boston Children's Hospital

A shoulder dislocation happens when too much force or pressure is applied to the ligaments connecting the arm to the shoulder, and the bones become separated. Imagine the shoulder and the top of the arm as a socket and ball—if too much force is applied, the ball can pop out of the socket, causing a dislocation. 

  • Although your child's shoulder may temporarily move back in place, you should always see a doctor if there has been any dislocation (or a suspicion of one).
  • Symptoms of a dislocation may include pain, swelling, deformity, warmth, bruising or redness in the shoulder and difficulty moving the arm.
  • Initial treatment of a dislocated shoulder is prompt and careful relocation (also known as “reduction”).  Once the shoulder has been put back into alignment, usually a brief period of sling immobilization is recommended.

If your child follows the instructions given by the doctor, including stretching and strengthening exercises or physical therapy, the dislocation may not happen again. But some children (and adults) have recurrent dislocations due to underlying looseness (laxity) or injury to their ligaments.

How Boston Children’s Hospital approaches shoulder dislocations

Boston Children's multidisciplinary team of orthopedic specialists, led by 24 fellowship-trained, board-certified pediatric orthopedic surgeons, provides the following services for children with dislocated shoulders: 

The skilled experts in our Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program have treated thousands of children and teens with arm and hand problems that range from the simple to the highly complex. We can provide your child with expert evaluation, diagnosis, treatment and care—as well as the benefits of some of the most advanced clinical and scientific research in the world.

Our Orthopedic Center is nationally known as the preeminent center for the care of children and young adults with a wide range of developmental, congenital, neuromuscular, sports-related, traumatic and post-traumatic problems of the musculoskeletal system.

Shoulder instability/dislocated shoulder: Reviewed by Donald Bae, MD
© Boston Children’s Hospital; posted in 2012

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