Dislocated Shoulder

A shoulder dislocation happens when too much force or pressure is applied to the ligaments connecting the arm to the shoulder, and the bones are 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 move temporarily move back in place, you should always have a physician diagnose and treat any dislocation.
  • Symptoms of a dislocation may include pain, swelling, deformity, warmth, bruising, or redness in the injured area, and difficulty using the injured area in a normal manner.
  • Your child's physician will typically treat a dislocated shoulder with a splint or cast, pain medication, and traction, with surgery only for the most severe cases.
  • Provided your child follows any activity restrictions and stretching and strengthening rehabilitation programs prescribed by his or her doctor, reinjury should be avoidable.

Shoulder dislocation treatment at Boston Children's Hospital

What happens when my child's shoulder dislocates?

Typically, the humeral head (the "ball" end of the upper arm) rolls out the front of the glenoid (the "socket" part of the shoulder) when your child's arm is struck while his or her elbow is held out — like in the blocking position of a football linebacker.

Occasionally, the humeral head can be pushed backward out of the glenoid due to a fall onto an outstretched hand or from a direct blow to the front of the shoulder. Three main ligaments attach the humeral head to the glenoid, and each ligament tightens at different arm positions to hold the shoulder together. A dislocation can occur when the ligaments are torn or stretched.

Rotator cuff muscles and tendons wrap around the humeral head to secure it in the glenoid and improve stability. A dislocation can occur when there are problems with the rotator cuff or the bones of the shoulder.

How can my child's shoulder be ‘relocated’?

It is always recommend that you bring your child to his or her physician or to a hospital emergency department for evaluation and treatment of a suspected dislocation.

Sometimes, your child may be able to use his or her own muscles to "pull" the humeral head back into the socket. However, after a few seconds, the muscles around the dislocated shoulder will spasm and will be unable to hold the shoulder in place.

  • Your child's physician will sedate the muscles in the shoulder, preventing spasming, and then be able to apply gentle traction to the injured arm and relocate the shoulder.
  • Your child's arm will then be placed in a sling (or in some cases, a splint) to decrease the stress on the injured capsule.
  • In rare cases, surgery may be necessary.

How we care for shoulder dislocations

You can have peace of mind knowing that the skilled experts in our Orthopedic Center's Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program have treated thousands of babies and children with many arm and upper extremity conditions. We provide expert diagnosis, treatment, and care, and we benefit from our advanced clinical and scientific research.