Shoulder Pain / Shoulder Instability

Shoulder Pain / Shoulder Instability Chronic shoulder instability occurs when loose ligaments within the shoulder joint make it more likely that the humerus (upper arm bone) will repeatedly dislocate or slip out of place from the shoulder socket.

What is Shoulder Instability?

Chronic shoulder instability occurs when loose ligaments within the shoulder joint make it more likely that the humerus (upper arm bone) will repeatedly dislocate or slip out of place from the shoulder socket. This can be due to an initial dislocation of the shoulder that causes ligaments, tendons, or muscles within the shoulder joint to become stretched or torn, or can be the result of repetitive strain on the joint.

What causes Shoulder Instability?

In many cases, a severe dislocation of the shoulder can result in chronic shoulder instability. This is due to the fact that when the initial dislocation occurs, it can tear or stretch the ligaments in the front of the shoulder. When this occurs, the shoulder can feel unstable or can occasionally slip out of place partially or fully. Shoulder instability can also occur without an initial trauma occurring to the shoulder joint. Repetitive overuse involving overhead activities, such as those seen in some sports (swimming, tennis, baseball) or occupations (painting, construction) can lead to a loosening of the ligaments in the shoulder, making the shoulder feel unstable. A condition known as multidirectional instability, in which a person naturally has loose ligaments throughout their body, can also cause the shoulder to be unstable or can result in dislocations of the joint occurring in any direction.

What are the symptoms of Shoulder Instability?

The primary symptoms of shoulder instability include a feeling that the shoulder is loose, does not feel stable within the shoulder joint, or the shoulder actually dislocates or slips out of its socket. Pain can also accompany instability and may be felt only when dislocation occurs or all of the time, depending on the level of instability and the cause of the condition.

How is Shoulder Instability diagnosed?

A medical professional will take a complete medical history and will perform a physical exam. A physical exam will involve various movements of the arm and shoulder to test for looseness, flexibility, stability, mobility, strength, and pain. The exam may include tests to determine the relative looseness of other ligaments within the body as well. X-rays may be used to check for problems or injuries involving the bones in the shoulder or upper arm that can lead to instability. An MRI may be used to get a better view of the soft tissue within the shoulder, including ligaments and tendons.

When should I seek care for Shoulder Instability?

If you experience shoulder pain or a feeling of looseness that does not improve with a brief period of rest, you should seek medical advice. If you lose strength or mobility in your shoulder, pain is severe, or your arm dislocates from your shoulder socket, you should seek immediate medical attention.

What will the treatment for Shoulder Instability consist of?

Some cases of shoulder instability can be treated without surgery. This is done primarily by limiting any activities that cause the shoulder to feel unstable or to dislocate. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications can be given for pain and ice can help control any inflammation that may be present. Physical therapy is often recommended to strengthen the muscles in the shoulder surrounding the loose ligaments to help maintain stability and control of the shoulder joint. If conservative treatments are unsuccessful, surgery may be required to repair loose or torn ligaments in the shoulder. This may be done arthroscopically, or an open incision may be required. Rehabilitation will be required following surgery and may last a number of months.

Which muscle groups/joints are commonly affected by Shoulder Instability?

Shoulder instability occurs due to damaged or loose ligaments within the shoulder joint, causing the humerus (upper arm bone) to dislocate from within the shoulder joint.

What type of results should I expect from the treatment of Shoulder Instability?

In some cases, conservative treatments will help treat shoulder instability by allowing ligaments to heal and by strengthening surrounding muscles in the shoulder. When treatment is unsuccessful or diagnosis indicates surgery is necessary, the procedures are typically successful in restoring shoulder stability as long as a proper rehabilitation program is followed after surgery. Rehabilitation for this condition may take many months.

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